“A Jewitch Herbal: Mystical Reflections on Food, Nature and Urban Farming” is a regular column by Devorah Brous charting the ways we can use mystical Jewish wisdom, earth-based practices and herbal wellness to reconnect with ourselves in harmony with nature. Brous is an urban homesteader, lifecycle ritualist, and green consultant in Los Angeles. Find her online offerings for the Sabbatical year @Dev.Brous
As Sukkot ends I have one dose of Jewish herbal medicine for you: Save Your Etrog.
People often wonder why the one fruit we celebrate during the Sukkot Harvest Festival is an etrog. With an enormous amount of pith, and a seed-heavy fruit that could hardly be classified as delicious (even by the most forgiving palette), why the etrog? But I sing praises to the etrog for its medicinal qualities.
In Latin, Etrog is Citrus medica, a citrus with medicinal qualities. All citrus have high levels of antioxidants and Vitamin C, but the fruit of the citron tree is touted as one of the original citrus cultivars from which all other citrus was developed, through either natural hybrid evolution or genetic hybridization.
The medicinal fruit is touted to increase fertility and to induce labor. It’s known for helping mitigate everything from cramps to bad breath, and it serves as a digestive aid that is anti-inflammatory — which is helpful for many food-related ailments, including what researchers are most focused on today: etrog for diabetes.
I could list a bunch of compelling research to reflect on, but here is one: a peer-reviewed published 2013 study determined that an extract of powdered etrog leaves, “exhibits a significant anti-hyperglycemic activity.” And it doesn’t taste bad either.
Rather than discarding the etrog after the eighth day festival is over, there is an abundance of art projects and recipes you can find online. My favorites are citron-ginger tea, and herbal citron liqueur homemade etrog moonshine which we share with friends year-round.
This year, I was given the challenge of creating a Sukkot activity for Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters during their annual event, so I crafted a remedy that is fun, simple, and healing.
May the mystical Jewish lore around this sacred fruit as the heart of our harvest remind us to humble before nature, and keep the heart at the center of all things temporary and permanent alike.
Etrog Anointing Oil
To make etrog-infused oil, begin grating and zesting the sacred fruit into a quart-sized mason jar until it is half full. Use the peel, not the flesh of the fruit.
Ethically harvest a small handful of seasonal herbs growing near you in this season. Give an offering of compost when you harvest, it’s our Sabbatical year 5782, high time to feed the land that feeds us.
I love to add a few sprigs of lavender, rose buds, cinnamon, and holy basil. You can use the stems, leaves, and the flowers. Chop this plant material up into small leaves.
Add a light carrier oil (organic sunflower oil, jojoba oil, or fractionated coconut oil) and fill until all the peel is immersed and there is about one inch of oil above the peel and the herbs.
Set the bottle in a cupboard for 40 days - or preferably for a season - shaking it daily.
When your oil has a fragrant scent infused to your liking, strain out the plant material and compost. If it’s not strong enough, shake it and let it sit a bit longer. Pour the oil into a separate container and label the ingredients and the date. Store in a cupboard, out of direct light to prolong the shelf life.
Add a few drops of your homemade Etrog oil to a bath, anoint yourself or your children during Havdalah, or spread this healing sacred oil onto your body. You can also mix a few drops of it with distilled water and a splash of witch hazel in a spray bottle to purify the air - instead of using chemicals to “freshen” the home or the car!