Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible
II Kings 4:39-40: One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it a lap full of wild gourds (oroth), and came and cut them up into the pot of pottage, not knowing what they were. And they were poured out for the men to eat.
There are a few mistakes in most of the English translations of the Bible, and you are about to learn about one of them. The oroth mentioned in the lines above is not only not a gourd, its not even a member of the gourd family.(Cucurbitaceae) Instead, it is a leaf vegetable related to cabbage, cauliflower,and radish. The plant referred to in this line is Arrugula, one of the finest leaf vegetables produced in the creation days. The plant gets one sad mention in the Bible and anyone that has eaten a salad made of it will agree it was treated unjustly! It is a fantastic green vegetable. “Oroth” is only mentioned in this passage and the collecting from the wild took place near Gilgal in the Jordan Valley .
Chances are, arrugula received only one mention as it was a wild plant and one that was taken for granted. Imported items, then in now, captivate more attention than the common plants in the field.
In America , arrugula is a foreign food and one that can be quite expensive. Why it is expensive remains a mystery, it is easy to grow and produces its leaves abundantly without much coaching from the gardener. The reference to oroth in II Kings tells us the Israelites saw arrugula as a weed plant, one that you went to the woods and collected freely. In those days it grew easily as it does today.
Like many members of the mustard family, arrugula springs from seed to mature plant in a short lived and dramatic blast. Once it reaches maturity it unceremoniously blooms, produces seed, and dies. It doesn’t live much longer than two months As soon as the seeds hit the ground and receive a little water, the next generation springs up and the cycle starts again.
A Mediterranean native, it is a popular spring salad green in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and all the way to North Africa. The leaves look vaguely like dandelion leaves but that’s where the similarity ends. Dandelion greens have to be choked down, arrugula makes the taste buds extremely happy. They scream, give us more of that please. It may be free in certain parts of the world, but it is by no means cheap in flavour. It has such a rich taste it is impossible to describe, you simply must taste it yourself. Around the Mediterranean , arrugula is credited with stimulating the taste buds and health in general. From the biblical days forward, Turks, Greeks, and Romans wrote and raved about its health giving properties. It was grown in gardens in ancient Rome and can still be found in the Roman market today. Albertus Magnus, writing in Italy in the thirteenth century, speaks of it growing in his garden.
Modern people eat like dogs in a kennel. They gulp down whatever gets dropped in their bowl. We spend very little time planning and preparing meals. We have a vague notion of what foods are good for us, but the emphasis here is on vague. The ancients knew all about specific foods, when it should be eaten in a meal, a week, and in a lifetime. In the days when eating was taken seriously, arrugula was served as a first course to wake up the stomach and get it ready for food.
Herbs that stimulate the digestive tract are called aperients. The word aperitif comes from the same root and it means to stimulate appetite. When aperients are taken, the digestive juices start flowing much in the way the mouth waters when the nose picks up a pleasant food smell. When the digestive juices start flowing we feel hungry and eager for food. On the practical side, the increased digestive juices means one digests and absorbs food more efficiently. Aperient herbs, or foods, were used in the biblical days to stimulate healthy appetites. These medicinal plants are still ideal for those that have been unwell and lack appetite and for the elderly that have lost their zeal for eating.
Arrugula was seen as being more than a digestive stimulant. It was also termed a rubefacient. It was used externally as a stimulant to the skin. Rubefacients are plants that have the ability to increase circulation to the part of the body to which they are applied. You might ask yourself the question, why you would want to increase circulation to a body part? The answer is simple. More blood means faster healing. Rubefacients are used to get old ulcers to heal up. In arthritis, rubefacients are applied to painful joints to stimulate the healing of the joint. Broken bones are packed with rubefacients to stimulate the knitting of the bones, which also requires a healthy blood supply.
Sometimes bones and the skin fail to heal because of poor circulation. “Healing” requires needs lots of blood and rubefacients draw blood to the site. Arrugula was ground up and applied to wounds to speed mending and to remove bruising. Slow wound healing as a result of poor circulation will be greatly improved with a pack of ground arrugula leaves.
Beyond these two uses, arrugula was seen as a general body stimulant or tonic. This idea of tonic, or a general stimulator to health, has fallen out of vogue. In America , a hundred years ago, it was common practice to go out in the spring and collect wild greens to increase vitality. Today virtually no one does it. In ages gone by, the idea of strengthening medicines were a way of life. Spring greens were collected to give the body a blast of vitality just when it was needed. After a long winter of eating potatoes and dried meat, the body was badly in need of some greenery. In II Kings, we find a biblical description of spring green gathering.
Where arrugula grows wild, people collect the seed and use them to make tonic pills which could be taken year round to give the body a little pick up. In North Africa , the fresh leaves and seeds are thought to be so stimulating to the constitution they act as aphrodisiacs, stimulating sexual desire and fertility. Whether the seeds are that stimulating can be debated, but the plant does contain elements that stimulate general well being.
The Hamdard Pharmacopoeia is a fabulous recipe book and record of the Arabian doctors who lived and worked in India ages ago. In this book one sees arrugula seeds listed in recipes used to increase health over and over again. Nerve weakness, emotional and physical exhaustion, depression, lack of sexual desire, and debility are all treated with arrugula seed. This sentiment is echoed throughout the Arab world and suggests the Israelites would have held similar beliefs about this plant and its deluxe leaves.
Gerard was aware of arrugula as were most of the European herbalists. Remember, it grows wild on the European as well as the Arabian side of the Mediterranean . “Rocket is a good sallet herbe, if it be eaten with lettuce, purslane, and such cold herbes, for being so eaten it is good and wholesome for the stomacke, and causeth that such cold herbes do not overcoole the same;otherwise, to be eaten alone, it causeth headache, and heateth too much.” Gerard was of the mind that it was so heating that it should not be eaten alone, that it was better tempered with some of the cold herbs. Again we see this firing up notion surrounding the plant. It may be appropriately termed rocket salad as that is just what it does to the energy levels.
Gerard also felt it was a boost to the genito-urinary tract, “The use of rocket seed stirreth up bodily lust, especially the seed. It provoketh urine, and causeth good digestion.” In fact, many of the ancient physicians felt it would stimulate the kidneys into action. We know today that members of the mustard family contain oils that get the kidneys flushing water out of the system, the old time doctors knew what they were talking about.
The ancients thought that arrugula made you strong, real strong. Gerard tells us of a use that I think is a little questionable. “Pliny reporteth, that whosoever taketh the seed of rocket before he shall be whipt, shall be so hardened, that he shall easily endure the paines.” People are not whipped in public the way they were in Gerard’s day, but we can all use a little toughening up.
Gerard also mentions arrugala in skin healing and the removal of bruises, ” The root and seed stamped, and mixed with vinegar and the gall of an oxe, taketh away freckles, lentiles, blacke and blew spots, and all such deformities of the face.” This action is again due to the fact the plant stimulates blood flow. A bruise is caused by dead blood cells left in the tissue after a blood vessel has been broken. The immune cells, which are delivered by the circulatory system, are responsible for collecting up these dead cells and removing them. Therefore, circulatory stimulants are of great use in getting a bruise to disappear. They get the immune cells to the site and doing their clean up work.
The mustard family members contain oils that have been proven to act as powerful stimulants. Buy some horseradish, grate it up, have a whiff, and you will know first hand how stimulating these oils can be. Your nose will run like a garden hose just from smelling the grated roots of this mustard family member. Whatever body part these oils touch are stimulated into activity. If they hit the stomach lining, the digestive juices start flowing. If they hit the skin, it turns red and fills with blood. If they hit the mucous membranes of the nose, the nose starts watering. Arrugula has a peppery taste which testifies to the presence of the stimulating mustard oils in its leaves and seeds.
Arrugula and all the mustard family members have received a lot of press in recent days as they come packing with anti-cancer substances. In case you are not familiar with who belongs to this family, here is a list of members: broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnips, radishes, chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, watercress, and land cress. When eaten over a long period of time, any of these plants have a cancer preventative capacity. I find this interesting as half of my family are hard drinking, smoking, fried food eating southerners. For the most part their diets are less than exemplary. However, lunch and dinner always have a bowel of greens as a centre piece. My grandfather Schar lived well into his eighties, drank and smoked for at least 65 of them, and finally died as a result of hitting his head. His health was fine. Despite the fact he broke all the rules, he was rarely unwell. The only explanation for his longevity I have been able to come up with is the fact no meal was served without a big bowl of mustard family members.
In places where arrugula grows wild, it is fairly easy to go out and collect as much seed or leaf as is needed. Unfortunately, for those of us living outside of the Mediterranean region, having arrugula, its leaf or seed, requires a little more work. You can buy arrugula at most gourmet markets. To experiment with its seed, they will have to be produced at home.
It has to be said that buying arrugula at the market is a grand waste of money. It grows like a weed and takes virtually no effort to grow at home. You can order the seeds from most seed catalogues. If you turn over a small patch of garden and scatter the seeds, water once or twice, you will have all the arrugula you could ever want. Arrugula grows like a rocket, which is by the way its other common name, rocket salad. Its moment in the sun is quick however, and you need to eat all the leaves as soon as they are big enough for the salad plate and replant as the plants shoot to seed. It comes and goes quickly. The plant will dump its seeds on the garden and a new crop will appear as soon as they hit ground.
If you want to use the seed, just plant arrugala in the garden and allow it to flower and produce seed. When the seed have blackened in their pods, cut the stalks and place the seed end of the stalks in a brown paper bag, store in a dry place. When thoroughly dried shake the stalks and the seed will collect in the bottom of the bag. You will then have the raw materials for making medicine.
As to using arrugula, the process could not be easier. Eat it or apply it. As a digestive stimulant, all you have to do is to eat a plateful of the leaves before lunch and dinner. If you want to use it as an external application to speed healing, simply grind one cup leaves with one tablespoon olive oil in a mortar and pestle, blender, or cuisine art. Apply to joint or wound with the aid of gauze and leave in place for several hours. Remove and rinse with myrrh lotion.(see myrrh) As a diuretic, take two cups arrugula leaves and cover with one cup boiling water. Let infuse ten minutes and drink. As a general body stimulant you can use the seeds or leaves. Eat two platefuls of the leaves per day or take one teaspoon seed, cracked, daily.
The best thing to do is to plant some in the garden and experiment with the leaves. There will be more of them than you can use. As you go out and gather the leaves for a meal or a poultice for a bruise, you can imagine that the Israelites did the same thing many centuries ago