Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews

Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews

Code: 978-1623175443



Product Description

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 26 plants and herbs essential to Ashkenazi folk medicine, Ashkenazi Herbalism 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 medicine among Eastern European Jews. Part II offers a comparative overview of healing customs among Jews of the Pale of Settlement, their many native plants, and the remedies applied by local healers to treat a range of illnesses. This materia medica names each plant in Yiddish, English, Latin, and other relevant languages, and the book also details a brief history of medicine; the roles of the ba'alei shemfeldshersopshprekherins, midwives, and brewers; and the remedy books used by Jewish healers.
DEATRA COHEN is a former reference librarian, is a clinical herbalist who trained with the Berkeley (formerly Ohlone) Herbal Center, belongs to a Western Clinical Herbal collective, and is a Master Gardener at the University of California. In her research, Cohen became frustrated with the lack of practical information available to Jews of Ashkenazi descent, and related to Eastern European traditions in general. Ashkenazi Herbalism was written to reconcile this lack, and the first work in any language to document the herbal practices of Ashkenazi Jews.

ADAM SIEGEL is a research librarian at University of California, Davis, and a historian of Central and Eastern Europe, studying issues around cultural contact and plant knowledge in the region. Siegel is a literary translator who has translated works from Russian, Czech, German, Croatian, Serbian, French, Italian, Swedish, and Norwegian, and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship in 2014. Siegel conducted the non-English research for this work, reviewing literature and scholarship in Yiddish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, and Hebrew.


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: