The Jewish Herbal: Olive oil balm
Olive trees are historians, holding sacred memory from the turmoil and celebration witnessed for centuries. They possess medicinal leaves, divine fruits, gnarled trunks with deep roots and the wisdom that arrives with age. As you will read below, olive oil has uses that go far beyond cooking. I use it to make a healing balm for my voice.
I learned the wisdom of olives during the 15 years I spent living in Israel and Palestine studying our ancient and current land-based practices, running an environmental nonprofit, and writing my Master’s thesis about olive trees.
When leaning into lessons gleaned from sitting still in nature, I wrote this poem about mourning and longing. The olive tree roots my past to this COVID-19 Chanukah 2020, with clear hindsight – as precious as olive oil.
I am the grove
I am the soil
I am the olive
I am a taste of what was.
Tangy, soft flesh
That tastes of peace, marinating in ancient oils
long before my tree was wrenched from the earth
and my jewels spilled to the ground.
I am an olive tree.
Displaced and repotted into unfamiliar soils
in a gated, brand new town
Nothing biblical here.
with tight bricks and a fancy gold necklace of donors
Lit up with artificial light so strong
it burns a whorl on my trunk, tattooing displacement.
My roots pulled minerals from loamy soils that prophets and judges walked on
when we knew
and who sweat over the stone press mill,
And when to climb the gnarled staircase trunk,
three feet wide and wiser than
And how to tap and gather and how to process silver tea from elegant leafy shimmer
And how to sit still among the family grove
The DNA of place, long since lost along with 800,000 other family trees
I am the oil in your Menorah
Cold pressed until smooth,
resilient like mercury,
original Source unnamed but
shiny as it fills the Chanukiah and reflects gold on the window,
beckoning “Remember the darkness at the center of the wick,
and reflect on the light.”
Over Chanukah on our homestead, we make remedies with infused olive oil that has been sitting in the cupboard over the past six months, since Tisha B’Av.
This week I made 400 jars of herbal voice balm to soothe the scratchy winter throat as a donation to the BIPoC-led Dignity and Power Now! for distribution through Alma Backyard Farms in South LA.
For this remedy, you’ll first need to prepare infused olive oil (which is super fun and easy)! Then, you’ll melt down the infused olive oil with luxurious organic plant butters, and organic beeswax to form a divine winter moisturizer that gives you ultimate skin hydration.
Step 1 ~ Sustainably harvest several large handfuls of herbs and cut into small chunks. Then, fill ¾ of your glass jar with macerated herb. (I use a recycled 1.5L olive jar and fill it with eucalyptus and pine needles. You can also use lavender, mint, or lemon balm.)
Cover the herbs with olive oil, and place the jar of submerged herbs in a cupboard to steep for six weeks to two months. Your infused olive oil is ready when the olive oil contains the fragrance of the herb, and the color of the oil is now darker and richer.
Lastly, strain out the plant material by pouring your oil into a bowl through a sifter covered with a cheesecloth tied around its base. Now your oil is ready for use. Discard and compost the herbs!
Step 2~ In a double boiler, I mix equal parts of organic jojoba oil, and organic shea butter to make this body balm feel a touch creamy. (Use roughly 1:1 cups for a small batch, or 6:6 cups for a big batch). Add a generous handful of organic beeswax pastilles (½ cup for a small batch, 1 cup for a big batch) to the brew. (Add more beeswax if you like a more firm balm.)
Step 3 ~ Add your infused olive oil – anywhere from 1-6 cups. In order to avoid overheating the infused olive oil, we add it at the end. Pictured here is my forest green pine/eucalyptus olive oil (a lot like Vicks I grew up with, but without needing to smear petroleum on skin).
Step 4 ~ When all ingredients have melted, take apart the double boiler and freeze the pot with your brew of ingredients. Then, thaw.
Step 5 ~ I use an ice-cream scooper to scoop the body butter into a glass jar. That’s it! You are all set! Label with the ingredients and the date. It should last in a cool, dark cupboard for six months to one year.
In our home, we apply this balm to raspy winter throats, as well as little feet, strained necks, and cracked, dry hands! This Pine Eucalyptus will nourish skin from the inside out.
“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 out about her courses and offerings at @FromSoil2Soul