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Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews

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The definitive guide to medicinal plant knowledge of Ashkenazi herbal healers, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. 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 The definitive guide to medicinal plant knowledge of Ashkenazi herbal healers, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. 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 25 plants and herbs essential to Ashkenazi folk medicine, this essential guide 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 eastern European medicine. Part II offers descriptions of predominantly Jewish towns in the Pale, their many native plants, and the remedies applied by indigenous healers to treat a range of illnesses. This materia medica names each plant in Yiddish, English, Latin, and other relevant languages. Ashkenazi Herbalism also details a brief history of medicine; the roles of the Ba'alei shem, Feldshers, Opshprekherins, midwives, and brewers; and the seferot.


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The definitive guide to medicinal plant knowledge of Ashkenazi herbal healers, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. 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 The definitive guide to medicinal plant knowledge of Ashkenazi herbal healers, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. 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 25 plants and herbs essential to Ashkenazi folk medicine, this essential guide 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 eastern European medicine. Part II offers descriptions of predominantly Jewish towns in the Pale, their many native plants, and the remedies applied by indigenous healers to treat a range of illnesses. This materia medica names each plant in Yiddish, English, Latin, and other relevant languages. Ashkenazi Herbalism also details a brief history of medicine; the roles of the Ba'alei shem, Feldshers, Opshprekherins, midwives, and brewers; and the seferot.

30 review for Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Vegan

    I was expecting to love this book. The subject interests me. For me though this was incredibly dry. It was not fun to read. Some previous library patron had dogeared page 35 and apparently hadn’t read on, and I completely understand. My difficulty with the book might have been due to my mood though. I’m struggling to find the “right, page turner” and this was simply not it. It took me a long time to read. This book covers 26 different plants and how they were used medicinally by Ashkenazi Jews i I was expecting to love this book. The subject interests me. For me though this was incredibly dry. It was not fun to read. Some previous library patron had dogeared page 35 and apparently hadn’t read on, and I completely understand. My difficulty with the book might have been due to my mood though. I’m struggling to find the “right, page turner” and this was simply not it. It took me a long time to read. This book covers 26 different plants and how they were used medicinally by Ashkenazi Jews in the Pale of Settlement/historically. Interesting map of the Pale’s towns, and I always love maps in books. It does seem thorough though I somehow wanted more. It does seem to be well researched. I did learn some things though I suspect I won’t remember much of what I read. I guess I don’t regret reading it, even though it wasn’t that enjoyable a read for me. For most readers I think this might work better as an owned reference book rather than a book to read cover to cover. I did find myself skimming at times. 2-1/2 stars, rounded up.

  2. 5 out of 5

    corvid_charm

    If you come across something really juicy in this book that delights your soul, do yourself a favour and rigorously fact-check, immediately. I was often surprised, and not in a good way, following up on the footnotes. There are weird inaccuracies in the book. For example, the author describes a feldsher titled "Reb" and claims this title signifies piety and great honour. Actually, every adult male in a shtetl gets the title "Reb," which is the equivalent of "Mr." To this day, people's random ance If you come across something really juicy in this book that delights your soul, do yourself a favour and rigorously fact-check, immediately. I was often surprised, and not in a good way, following up on the footnotes. There are weird inaccuracies in the book. For example, the author describes a feldsher titled "Reb" and claims this title signifies piety and great honour. Actually, every adult male in a shtetl gets the title "Reb," which is the equivalent of "Mr." To this day, people's random ancestors, both long- and recently-dead, are often given the title "Reb" in Jewish memorial prayers and other ritual remembrances. Similarly, she flubs a definition of "pikuah nefesh" as allowing "heresy" in order to channel divine healing. This is really really weird. Pikuah nefesh lets you break most ritual commitments to actively rescue someone from death, but famously, you cannot commit idolatry to do so. (If idolatry is even a relevant concern. It was not shown that idolatry was ever a rabbinic worry vis a vis folk healing). There are more translation errors of what I feel are pretty common Yiddish and Hebrew terms but there's no need to dogpile. I feel the author really wanted European Jewish history to mirror popular narratives of herbalism (indeed, at the beginning, she talks about how she mourned not being able to fit her family roots into the expected mould of relationship with plant medicine). To fit the type, you need a mystic yet folksy unbroken tradition oppressed by both religion and medicine. To this end, she describes Jews who went to medical school as "assimilationist," rejecting their ancestral folk medicine. But here's the thing: she already wrote that Jews and non-Jews had been trading healing strategies since time immemorial. What makes that sharing of knowledge traditional, but the mixing of minds at medical school "assimilationist"? Further, what remedies should we consider "folk," and why? Why the temptation to look at plant medicine as a static, guarded secret, when it was clearly always evolving, excited and interested in new ideas? Looked at that way, the obvious Jewish interest in medical schools was an outgrowth of broader curiosity about fixing body problems: a continuation of the old way, not the superimposition of a "new way." Another issue with her "old way vs new way" approach is that Jews were overrepresented as trained physicians in pre-modern Europe, all the way back to the Middle Ages. What is most interesting about this is that female Jews were highly visible in the field, especially in ophthalmology. Crickets from the author, who represents medicine as a rather sneering male institution. Other contradictions abound. She describes how midwives worked without any thanks, and that the "best case" working scenario for them was "without comment" from their clients (p. 34). She imagines them "never once demanding even the tiniest acknowledgement for [their] singular efforts." But then she goes on to quote texts showing how honoured and revered midwives were. Given that the contradiction in question is between textual evidence (the midwife as honoured villager) and her own conjecture, I think the former must be true, but what's the point of the latter? It's all just so weird. There IS a lot of interesting research here. As another reviewer mentioned, it won't help "lema'aseh": you won't learn how to practice it. But if you're fishing for broader ideas, the sources brought in this book can help. Just, again, fact-check. Final note. "Ashkenazi," "Sephardi," "Mizrahi," etc, are usually used when there is need to distinguish Jewish groups, for example, "Sephardi mikvaot are usually beautiful, but Ashkenazi ones can be pretty run-down." It's startling, and a little unsettling, to see it used without any intention of comparison -- which happens a lot in this book. It's like if someone kept calling your Black friend Bob "Black Bob" and just won't stop. It gets to a point where you wonder, what are you trying to say? Sometimes the fact that the book tunnel-visions on Ashkenazi Jews and Slavic Christians obscures information. Fortune-telling via lead in water is practiced by Iraqi Jews, but is presented as an "Ashkenazi" thing. Why? Why is the author so sure that Jews mix their customs freely with non-Jews, but Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities had no mingling, no lines of cultural exchange, or nothing to say about each other?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Okay, so I went to the length of skipping to buying this book. And unfortunately I regret it roundly. First, accolades, though--it's possibly the most impressive feat of research compilation ever. I remember trying to research similar subjects in college, and it was hard. So, very, very impressive to have aggregated this much information on these topics. The sad part is that then it's not of any use. Since all there is to go on is vague, list-like, ancient mentions using phraseology for conditio Okay, so I went to the length of skipping to buying this book. And unfortunately I regret it roundly. First, accolades, though--it's possibly the most impressive feat of research compilation ever. I remember trying to research similar subjects in college, and it was hard. So, very, very impressive to have aggregated this much information on these topics. The sad part is that then it's not of any use. Since all there is to go on is vague, list-like, ancient mentions using phraseology for conditions that there's modern debate over the meaning of, it's not like you can use this as a kind of recipe book to actually do the things. It would, I'm certain, be very unsafe if you tried. I can only think of very limited uses for this book. Story research for writers, certainly, since the information is vague enough and arranged in such a way that you could easily nab phrases from it and insert them in a historical or fantasy work to explain away peoples with limited resources healing wounds and diseases before technology. And then just general research, such as if a student was writing a paper on these subjects, isolated from any real world application. The book is extremely dense and encyclopedic rather than any kind of engaging narrative. One thing I feel like is a flaw is that it's in no way limited to the title subject matter. It's not actually Jewish Ashkenazi Eastern European healing traditions-- it's every use of the particular set of plants covered, ever, anywhere, not limited to that tradition. As such, it's a really valuable reference work for the history of plant remedies generally, but it'll be hard to discover that way since it's masquerading under the title. I do like the listings of all the different names for the plants in every language, just for linguistic interest and fun.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    An excellent book and an amazing resource, since no comprehensive studies of Ashkenazi herbal medicine practices existed in prior to its publication. I would have preferred more ethnography and narrative, and was a bit disappointed that fully two thirds of the book comprises the materia medica, which is a wonderful resource but not as interesting a read. Perhaps this book will inspire future writing along those lines.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Danni Green

    There is a lot of information in this book, but it's really presented more as a reference guide than as a reading book, and might have been more user-friendly as a website than as a book. I did read it, though I'm not sure I retained much of what I read. A particular difficult I observed was that there were often descriptions of what symptoms or conditions the herbs were used for, but it was left vague whether this meant that modern science had, or had not, validated that usage, or whether it is There is a lot of information in this book, but it's really presented more as a reference guide than as a reading book, and might have been more user-friendly as a website than as a book. I did read it, though I'm not sure I retained much of what I read. A particular difficult I observed was that there were often descriptions of what symptoms or conditions the herbs were used for, but it was left vague whether this meant that modern science had, or had not, validated that usage, or whether it is unknown. This made it hard to know what to do with the information I was reading -- was this a historical account of herbalism, or a guide that could be used by contemporary herbalists or even just someone like me trying to treat my own symptoms? Thus, I would only recommend this book as perhaps a starting point of inquiry to get some awareness of the (limited) existing scholarship, but I hope it will inspire work on more useful future resources.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie Kramer

    I always find it a great treasure to learn more about my heritage. This book delves into the history of the Ashkenazi people with traditional herbs. I have never even known of this part of my heritage so it is wonderful learning about it so I can understand traditions more.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    “Herbalism, or herbal medicine, seems a simple enough concept,” the preface begins. What seems to be a simple concept at the surface turns out to be complex and we quickly learn of the rich stories and histories of different communities that have relied on herbal medicine for millennia. Notably, many communities of the Pale Settlement in Eastern Europe relied on Ashkenazi herbalists and doctors, just as many Ashkenazi Jews of the Pale relied on other communities (specifically Traditional Chinese “Herbalism, or herbal medicine, seems a simple enough concept,” the preface begins. What seems to be a simple concept at the surface turns out to be complex and we quickly learn of the rich stories and histories of different communities that have relied on herbal medicine for millennia. Notably, many communities of the Pale Settlement in Eastern Europe relied on Ashkenazi herbalists and doctors, just as many Ashkenazi Jews of the Pale relied on other communities (specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine and Middle Eastern herbalists) as well. The different groups that lived in and traveled around the Pale Settlement had a symbiotic relationship. During the Jewish Enlightenment, which was inspired by the European Enlightenment, age-old traditions began to fade away. Physicians with Western academic training along with health care reformers from the Jewish middle classes of Eastern Europe, attempted to reshape attitudes about health care. It’s important to note in this review that while there were doctors and hospitals in the years leading to World War I, the doctors still referred to Feldshers, Midwives, and other traditional doctors. The locals still saw and trusted these groups of practitioners because they used traditional remedies that they were familiar with. By the end of Part I, as the reliance on modern hospitals and doctors grew, we are reminded of the importance of our connection to the natural world is for remembering our ancestors, for healing ourselves, and for the health of future generations. This leads us into Part II where the importance of plants and knowing the medicinal properties come into play, which leads us to Part III and 26 different herbs that are important in traditional medicine. This is the part of Ashkenazi Herbalism where Cohen’s research experience as a librarian, artist and herbalist shines. This is also the part where Siegel’s translation experience shines and together they weave beautiful tales. Starting with aloe and ending with viola, there are translations for Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, German, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian, for each culture that would work with the plant. It was helpful to see, to get into the mind of the healer that would use one of these languages in their work. I also loved the stories and traditions that accompanied each plant. Ashkenazi Herbalism was indeed detective work and all this research was beautifully written, and it wasn’t overly technical. This book could be read by novices and it did a wonderful job introducing herbalism. However, I feel like Part I could have been broken down into parts like the plants were. Part I was a long read and while it was interesting, it was dense when broken up with bolded sections. However, breaking down that part might not have made sense. It was wordy and possibly for a good reason. In this day and age, herbalism and traditional medicine still has a place in our lives. We could see this during the Pandemic especially. While we still relied on doctors and we still need to rely on doctors, people also trust the ancient wisdom for when modern medicine can’t answer everything. Ashkenazi Herbalism is for those who are interested in the history of traditional medicine in Eastern Europe, how Jewish thought impacted their community and the communities around them. This book also makes the case for trusting this wisdom and maybe asking these questions of our ancestors.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Inspired 2 Craft

    This is a book packed with so many well-known herbs, 26 to be exact, and information that I never knew much about! That is the main reason why I had to have this book, Ashkenazi Herbalism. To learn much more than I've ever known before and understand new techniques to heal and aid my health conditions naturally. It's a very concise book, providing great details on the herb, the way it aids, and how to use it. Additionally, perfect for beginners in herbalism, it's a great primer into the life of This is a book packed with so many well-known herbs, 26 to be exact, and information that I never knew much about! That is the main reason why I had to have this book, Ashkenazi Herbalism. To learn much more than I've ever known before and understand new techniques to heal and aid my health conditions naturally. It's a very concise book, providing great details on the herb, the way it aids, and how to use it. Additionally, perfect for beginners in herbalism, it's a great primer into the life of being an herbalist! This book may be a bit different since I was interested in the herbalism aspect of the book, as I'm not following the Jewish lifestyle and culture. However, it still provides a great idea of what a plant can do for the body and how it heals. Like many books before, it covers some potent plants, normally easy to find and in the Ashkenazi folk medicine line, these are the top 26 medical plants well known. For example, the medical properties of certain plants like aloe, nettle, marshmallow, horsetail, nutmeg, St. John's wort, chicory, and so many others can be read up inside this book. Allowing one to know what each does and if it's to find a cure to an ailment, well it only takes a quick index lookup and you can find the illness and the many beneficial herbal plants to use to fix this issue as well. It's basically similar to many other herbal books and still provides a great resource for herbalists with or without any experience. I find that the book is quite useful and easy to find the right method to take to help heal digestive issues, which is something my family is always suffering from. Also, heartburn is a great one to know, providing a guaranteed way and method to avoid issues without taking medicine that causes even worse long-term effects. Plus, if I'm in need to help with headaches, especially migraines, this book has the cure for that as well! No more living with pain or dealing with it, thanks to this guide on herbal healing. "I have been given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion"

  9. 4 out of 5

    Maria Lucas

    Using herbal medicine is the best decision you can take, its natural and the best treatment you can offer for any health problem. I totally got rid of my Herpes Virus and type 2 diabetes , with the herbal medicine I ordered from HERBALIST RAZOR. I also visited his website https://herbalistrazorherb.wixsite.co... .There I place an order and it was delivered to me and was left at my front door, I URGE those infected or battling with health challenges to please Reach out to This Wonderful HERBALIST Using herbal medicine is the best decision you can take, its natural and the best treatment you can offer for any health problem. I totally got rid of my Herpes Virus and type 2 diabetes , with the herbal medicine I ordered from HERBALIST RAZOR. I also visited his website https://herbalistrazorherb.wixsite.co... .There I place an order and it was delivered to me and was left at my front door, I URGE those infected or battling with health challenges to please Reach out to This Wonderful HERBALIST RAZOR. You CAN Contact him on his Email via [email protected] or whatsapp/call him on +2349065420442 am really happy and I want to say a big thank you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    A mini encyclopedia of medicinal herbs. It's not a novel, but rather a small textbook that details the way herbs aid and how one should use them, while providing in depth research of how they have historically been used and why. You'll learn a lot about the herbal remedies as well as the culture and history. A mini encyclopedia of medicinal herbs. It's not a novel, but rather a small textbook that details the way herbs aid and how one should use them, while providing in depth research of how they have historically been used and why. You'll learn a lot about the herbal remedies as well as the culture and history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

  12. 4 out of 5

    J.R.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Neelybat

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Glik

  18. 4 out of 5

    Macy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mara

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rissa

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emilia Jane

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dara Skolnick

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mariah Kornberg-DeGear

  25. 4 out of 5

    Deglispiriti

  26. 4 out of 5

    Risa

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ketzirah

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sally

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

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