“The Jewish Herbal: Mystical Reflections on Food, Nature and Urban Farming” is a regular column by Devorah Brous charting the ways we can reconnect with ourselves in harmony with nature. Devorah is an urban homesteader, lifecycle ritualist, and green consultant in Los Angeles. Find her at From Soil2Soul.
Walk with me over to the pomegranate tree. It hugs our urban homestead from two sides with a dramatic plume of greenery dotted with fire-red fruit.
Due to extreme heat and intensely smokey air, this year I deployed a combined strategy of neglect and generosity, and decided not to bag and protect each individual fruit. We mostly managed to outsmart a mafia of squirrels, birds, raccoons and the highly-destructive Western leaf-footed insect pests that copulate all over the ancient fruit, shamelessly devouring a small part of each pomegranate. Overall, the mafia had some, and we had enough for a bountiful harvest in time for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur break fast.
While processing our harvest, I’ve been reflecting on waste, and waste of time — the symbolism literally staining everything. I love the mystical Jewish belief that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate. It takes time to open the fruit if you want to capture each ruby jewel and not waste the deep red seeds or the fibrous skin.
I love the way each seed nestles together without wasting any space. What I don’t love is how the finicky and petulant critters eat their share and then start pulverizing the next fruit - taking the equivalent of one gigantic bite - and wasting the remainder. Over time other critters will arrive and eat the fruit, as there is no waste in nature.
Usually when it comes to food waste it is finicky people to blame. The USDA estimates that some 66,500 acres of planted crops are left unharvested each year. Our wasteful culture has bought into the same rigid standards defined by the beauty industry: fruit must not be misshapen and skin must be unblemished. As a compost fanatic, here’s my workaround: I cut around the bug-eaten parts of the skin for compost, and salvage the rest of the fruit. Even imperfect food is essential.
I like to detox and mikveh before the Jewish High Holidays. I also like to use all parts of the foods that are just ripe to deepen the spiritual journey through the Days of Awe. To me, pomegranate is a sacred superfood to work with this season because its flowers, leaves, bark, and peel all contain antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and we need this medicine. In fact, the powdered pomegranate peel has been found to have more antioxidants than the seeds. Symbolizing abundance, well-being, and fertility in many cultures and religions, pomegranates boast far-reaching health benefits. They help people who menopause to rebalance their hormones naturally, people battling estrogenic and blood cancers, and people lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Take that, Pfizer.
And, rather than waste any precious seed or peel, just open the fruit, freeze, and enjoy through next Rosh HaShanah when our Sabbatical year begins!
DIY Pomegranate Peel Powder
To nourish a fire-choked dry throat and ease a smoke-induced cough, gargle hot tea made with pomegranate peel powder four times a day.
1. Separate and sun-dry the red part of the pomegranate peels.
2. Grind peels into a powder, label and store in a Mason jar.
3. Add 1 tsp of powder to boiling water, steep, and add Manuka honey.