Ashkenazi Herbalism:



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The definitive guide to medicinal plant knowledge of Ashkenazi herbal healers, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.

Until now, the herbal traditions of the Ashkenazi people have remained unexplored and shrouded in mystery. Ashkenazi Herbalism rediscovers the forgotten legacy of the Jewish medicinal plant healers who thrived in eastern Europe’s Pale of Settlement, from their beginnings in the Middle Ages through the modern era.

Including the first materia medica of 25 plants and herbs essential to Ashkenazi folk medicine, this essential guide sheds light on the preparations, medicinal profiles, and applications of a rich but previously unknown herbal tradition–one hidden by language barriers, obscured by cultural misunderstandings, and nearly lost to history. Written for new and established practitioners, it offers illustrations, provides information on comparative medicinal practices, and illuminates the important historical and cultural contexts that gave rise to eastern European Jewish herbalism.

Part I introduces a brief history of the Ashkenazim and provides an overview of traditional eastern European medicine. Part II offers descriptions of predominantly Jewish towns in the Pale, their many native plants, and the remedies applied by indigenous healers to treat a range of illnesses. This materia medica names each plant in Yiddish, English, Latin, and other relevant languages. Ashkenazi Herbalism also details a brief history of medicine; the roles of the Ba’alei shem, Feldshers, Opshprekherins, midwives, and brewers; and the seferot.

From the Publisher


From time immemorial, humans have looked to the natural world, which we always have been a part of, in order to heal ourselves. In this respect the Jews of Eastern Europe were no different from any other people. If anything, what set many Eastern European Jewish communities apart by the twentieth century was a reluctance to embrace the modern era and all the advantages promised by its technologies, including medicine. Had the Second World War not destroyed their communities, the natural healing traditions that had kept Eastern European Jews resilient for centuries would still be known today. Instead, this essential part of their history has been long obscured and, consequently, utterly forgotten by posterity. But who were the Eastern European Jews, and what evidence remains of their traditional healing practices?

To attempt to answer the latter question, we offer a brief sketch of folk medicine, Eastern European Jewry, the communities in which Eastern European Jews lived, and what the written historical record reveals about their health practices and beliefs, in both “official” medicine (whether religious or secular) and folk medicine. We describe and discuss the different Jewish healers who treated Eastern European Jews (and their non- Jewish neighbors). And we contrast the worlds of men and women healers (again, whether religious or secular, and in official or folk medicine). … “Herbal medicine” refers to healing through the application of plants, herbs, and other natural substances found locally. It’s self-evident that human beings all over the world have discovered, through direct experience and knowledge transmitted over thousands of years, the healing powers of the natural world around us.

Below, a few of the plants and herbs from the first materia medica of its kind:

Aloe, Jewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal traditionAloe, Jewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal tradition

Aloe arborescens


In the Hebrew Bible, “aloes” are described as fragrant, a characteristic that doesn’t seem to corroborate what might be said of the plants called “aloe” today. Most likely, biblical aloes were Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) or agarwood, also known as aloeswood, and were derived from a mold-infected Aquilaria tree, which produces a signature aromatic resin to protect itself from the offending pathogen.


Emollient, purgative, vulnerary; anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, demulcent, stimulant laxative, soothing



FAMILY: Asphodelaceae

YIDDISH: אלאע ,אַליאָיז ,אַליאָ

HEBREW: אלואי ,אלווא ,אללוי ,אלווי ,אלוא ,אלוי עצי ,אלווי

UKRAINIAN: Алое деревовидне, Алоя деревувата, алоя, алоісь, сабур, столітник, столетник, кактус, etc


POLISH: aloes drzewniasty

RUSSIAN: Алое древовидное, столетник, сабур

LITHUANIAN: Medėjantis alavijas

Jewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal traditionJewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal tradition

Delphinium consolida


The name Delphinium comes from the genus’s flower buds, which were thought to resemble a dolphin. And despite the fact that its species name refers to the plant’s power of consolidating wounds, the ancients disregarded Delphinium consolida and instead wrote of a closely related plant, Delphinium staphisagria, or stavesacre. Dioscorides knew stavesacre to be a poison, but it was used in his time as an emetic, to rid one of lice, as an expectorant, and to “staunch rheumy gums.”


Anthelmintic, purgative



FAMILY: Ranunculaceae

COMMON ENGLISH NAMES: forking larkspur, rocket-larkspur, field larkspur, lark heels (Shakespeare)

YIDDISH: זשיוועקיסט ,ריטערשפּאָרן

HEBREW: דרבנית

UKRAINIAN: Сокирки польові, сокирки, житні сокирки, сокирки синенькі, косарики, косирки, etc

GERMAN: Gewöhnliche Feldrittersporn, Acker-Rittersporn, Feldrittersporn

POLISH: Ostróżka, ostróżeczka polna, ostróżka polna

RUSSIAN: Живокость полевая, шпорник, сокирки полевые

Jewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal traditionJewish herbalism, herbalism books, herbalism, herbalist, Jewish herbalism, herbal tradition

Fragaria vesca


Strawberries have been known since antiquity but are only mentioned in passing by classical authors such as Virgil or Pliny the Elder. In English the plant’s name was originally strewberry because its fruit appeared to have been scattered or strewn amongst its foliage. The plant’s presence in art has historically symbolized anything from sensuality and earthly desires to righteousness.

In Poland the plant’s healing traditions go back centuries, if not millennia. Wild strawberries are believed to have grown in the region since Neolithic times and served as food for early Slavs. By the sixteenth century Polish physicians were noting preparations of strawberry could treat lung and pancreas inflammations, reduce high fevers, and rid the mouth of bad tastes. The plant was also sought to extract the poison from a spider bite, quell rashes, soothe sore eyes, ease colds, reduce kidney and gallbladder stones, heal burns, and treat jaundice and scurvy.


Astringent, diuretic, tonic


Whole plant

FAMILY: Rosaceae

COMMON ENGLISH NAMES: strawberry, wild strawberry, mountain strawberry, woodland strawberry, etc

YIDDISH: אָפֿזעמקע ,ראַיטע יאַגדעס ,פּאָזיאָמכע ,קלובניק ,פּאַזשעמקע פּאַטשומקע

HEBREW: תותי ,היער ,תּוּת

UKRAINIAN: Суниця, Суниці лісові, суничник, позьомки, полуниці, лісна полуниця, полуничник, etc

GERMAN: Erdbeere

POLISH: Poziomka pospolita

RUSSIAN: Земляника лесная, земляника обыкновенная

LITHUANIAN: Paprastoji žemuogė


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