Thursday, June 29, 2017

Top of the Land

Wild Rose (Rosa canina) on the peak of Mt. Hermon
After picking a bunch of cherries to complete our breakfast we drove to the peak of Mount Hermon (Jabal A-Sheikh) - elevation 2,224m, which is accessible with chair lifts. It was a relatively hot day but still much more pleasant than the rest of the country - somewhere around 26c or so, with a very harsh sun yet a nice dry cool breeze ever so often.

Cherry Picking
The vegetation is somewhat sparse but very special and with many varieties growing on this mountain. Some plants can be found in other northern places (for example: the now protected Wild artichoke (Gundelia tournefortii) - עכובית הגלגל, which grew in most parts of the country before), but others are endemic to this mountain alone, because of its exceptional conditions and placement. It is covered in snow all winter, and once it melts resembles a cool desert land, covered with white rocks and with no trees in sight. Dog roses (Rosa canina) are native to Israel, but are quite a rare sight otherwise. To find a bush in full bloom at the peak of Mt. Hermon was elating. Of course, it has a heavenly fragrance.

Peak of Mt. Hermon

Up on the peak, there is a sense that many of the plants here has some mysterious medicinal value, for some very specific and possibly rare conditions. I am imagining a time when climbing the mountain on foot would be a great ordeal (well, it still is - but most people use the road and then the gondola!). People would only go up the mountain for an important mission set forth by a divine guidance, a royal order, or a great and pressing need to save someone's life from a rare illness...
פריגה חלקת פרי
This poppy (Glaucium oxylobum פרגה קרחת/פריגה חלקת פרי), for example, is unique to Mt. Hermon and can't be found anywhere else in the country (but it can be found in high elevations - upwards of 1,100m - in the mountains of Turkey and Iran). I love its bright dual colours and contrasting "eyes". It blooms for a very long season - six months to be exact, from April when the snow melts, till the total dryness of September. There is a great variety between flowers, but they all share this startling, sudden contrasting colour change, and unusual display of three colours.
Salvia microstegia מרווה בוצינית + Alyssum baumgartnerianum אליסון חרמוני
Salvia microstegia (the hairy big leaves with white flowers), the thistle-looking plant is Cousinia hermonis (קוסיניה חרמונית), the yellow flowers are of Alyssum baumgartnerianum Bornm. (אליסון חרמוני), AKA madwort. It is not the only yellow flower found on Mt Hermon  - so don't confuse it with Lebanese St. John's Wort (Hypericum libanoticum) in Hebrew - פרע לבנוני, or with the two types of Achilea that grow there - Achillea biebersteinii (אכילאה קטנת-פרחים) and the endemic Achillea falcata (אכילאה גפורה).

There might also be a type of catnip (נפית קילקית?) Nepata - of some kind that I'm yet to completely ID), or a horehound in the pic. Which also reminds me of the unusual Lebanese horehound (Marrubium libanoticum Boiss) - in Hebrew מרוביון הלבנון/מרמר הלבנון, which is also a highly medicinal plant.
Israel|Syria border - view from peak of Mt. Hermon
Israel & Syria - view from above. Where the green ends Syria begins... It's sad but true, due to over-forestation and roaming in Syria, and on the other hand much planting of trees all across Israel.

Lastly, here is me and Miss T standing against this dramatic backdrop.

Israel|Syria Border - Peak of Mt. Hermon

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Maple & Fig

Maple & Fig

On our way back to Clil, we sat down by the Dan creek in Kibbutz Dafna. The creek goes through the centre of the kibbutz, and there is a beautiful park alongside, where people, dogs and little children came to enjoy quietly at the end of a hot day. We cooled off in the creek, and set up our last tea party for this trip. After all the caffeine of the day, I opted for an herbal tea - a blend from all the different dried plants I brought with me, including sage, lavender, lemongrass, savory, wild oregano (za'atar), and more. We deconstructed a box of cherries that we picked that morning, and finished up the very last bit of the precious ka'akat isfar. All good things come to an end. Sigh...

Tea by the Creek

A little girl approached us, followed by her parents, and gifted us with flat bark of some tree that she found. I again regretted not inviting everyone I see for a tea party, but realized I was inviting her just being there and radiating our tea-infused calm. I drew a tea cup on one piece of bark, and a heart on the other and gave them back to her.

Under the trees, there was that sweet and balmy, almost like styrax - we were sitting under a tree that looked like a cultivated sweetgum tree of one kind or another (they have leaves a little similar to maple). It was comforting to find a smell that is similar to Canada right here in the upper galilee. A smell I would have not even known its origin - or perhaps would have not even notice the smell - if it weren't for my arbourous friends from the far away land. I will always have both the maple and the fig in my heart - and my nostrils.

Herbal Tea

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Druze Tea

Herbal arrangement for tea brewing
For those unfamiliar with the Druze culture, it is unique to the Levant (Lebanon, Syria and Israel). This minority group originated about a thousand years ago in the Ismaillia sect of early Islam, and was largely prosecuted after splitting off from it. Therefore, mate

they usually dwell on mountains and have long tradition of bravery since they've always needed to fend for themselves in a rather hostile environment. In Israel, the Druze communities are all located in the north - from Mount Carmel in the largest Druze town Daliat el Carmel and all the way up north to the Western Galilee, the Golan Heights especially around Mount Hermon.

Near my village alone there are four Druze villages - Jath, Yanuh, Yirka and Julis. We've held strong friendly relationships with our Druze neighbours. Growing up, two elders from the village Yanuh will travel on foot or by donkey and come help us build our village - they taught our parents how to built terraces from the many rocks around here so that we can grow crops along the hillsides, how to cultivate wild olives and do the grafting so the trees grow strong and bear good fruit, and we went every summer to the miller and grind our wheat (when we still grew our own), and every autumn to line up with all the other olive growers and press our olives into fine olive oil and buy handmade olive soap that was made on the spot from the pommace left from the pressing process. As the nearby village Yirka developed into a small town bustling with businesses - we go there also to do most of our shopping and other business (that's where I usually go to the ship my online orders, by the way), and continue to build business and work relations with our neighbours. My house (both the old and the new part) was built almost entirely by a Birka-Born team of construction experts who became my closest new friends since moving here, and their wives come to practice Pilates with me.

Growing up here, I remember my mom being especially enthusiastic about learning from the Druze women about the bounty of edible and medicinal wild plants around here. From them she also learned to drink olive oil in the morning on empty stomach, and how to make a special scorpion antidote (from the scorpion that stung you, fried in olive oil). I never tried either, and probably never will. But I do love to learn from them about the nearly magical properties of the plants that grow everywhere around here. It's as if there is an entire pharmacy out in the open, here in the wild. 

Besides, there is much to be learned from the Druze traditional way of living, which is very family centred and values hospitality and taking the time to sit and enjoy a cup of anything - tea, coffee, and more and more coffee. The latter is served everywhere you go - from the hardware store to the mobile phone shop. And of course you can't enter a home without being invited for at least a cup of coffee, and if it's dinnertime - to break bread with the whole family.

Ka'kat Isfar
As is widespread in all of Israel - among both the Arab and Jewish population - the Druze adore za'atar, sage and the many wild harvested and then dried herbs from around here. They are  popular as digestifs or medicinal brews for various ailments or as preventative measures: wild sage, white mint, savory, wild oregano, and more are either infused on their own or added, dried or fresh, to black tea.  The love for za'atar is so profound that it is even added to some sweet pastries, such as this traditional ka'akat isfar ("yellow cake") - a mildly sweet yeasted flatbread that is coloured with turmeric and additionally spiced with sesame and nigella seeds, hints of za'atar (this umbrella name could be wild oregano, savoury or thyme - more on that in another post), and hints of mysterious spices that I'm yet to identify (I detected nutmeg and perhaps even some cardamom or allspice but I can't be sure of the latter two). It has become a favourite of mine, but is never found in a pastry shop. Some families would sell their traditional homemade ka'kat isfar when they make it, and the recipes vary. The first one I tried was only spiced with turmeric. This particular version that I'm very fond of was made by a random person I met on one of my traveling tea parties, and I doubt I will be able to taste ever again. The only recipe I found that seems close is written in Arabic and I'm far from being proficient enough to follow a recipe in that language.

Many of my Vancouver perfume studio guests have been indirectly introduced to Druze culture through the special tea I would brew each winter (we fondly called it "witch brew") of dried hulnejan (a particular type of dried galangal root) and ginger roots, which is simmered forever in a large pot, simultaneously cleansing the air, warming the chest and keeping colds at bay. It is often served with pecan nuts sprinkled on top, and a lot of sugar, which is how most Druze like their teas. I personally prefer it unsweetened, and like to add cinnamon bark which has its own natural sweetness. Sometimes I would add honey but not often.

But Hulnejan is not the only interesting thing about the Druze tea culture. As it turns out, in the 19th Century, many Druze - especially from Syria - left for Argentina, and they brought back with them mate, and a special fondness for this unique South American concoction. They drink it socially, sharing the same bombilla (the silver straw), traditionally sucked from the tea which is brewed in a dried decorative gourd.

Mate, Druze-style

In this photo, I am holding a dainty cup of mate that was offered to me on the streets of Majdal Shams, a remote Druze village come ski tourist town on Mount Hermon (Jabal Sheikh), formerly part of Syria. 

On Saturday morning, we were having a hard time finding a place to eat breakfast. The breakfast place recommended to us the night before was still closed at 8:30am - it turns out it was them who had the wedding the night before with the parade that blocked the streets) - and so we were directed by a local lady to a corner shop that sells coffee, cigarettes, local cherries and freshly whipped before your eyes malyukh (Druze flat bread that is baked on top of a saj - an iron dome much like an upside down wok) on top of open fire. The bread is baked only on one side, than folded and smeared with generous amounts of labneh (soft cheese made from strained yoghurt), za'atar mixture, and homemade hot sauce that I swear was spiked with cinnamon.  We were also offered black tea "on the house" which turned to be fragrant with "Ootra" - Arabic for the popular Pelargonium graveness. The lady was impressed with my Arabic (very basic, but still better than nothing) and even more so that I recognized what she put in the tea and know the Arabic name for it.

I chatted her up as I was munching on the malyukh and sipping the tea, and learned that while Majdal Shams is not as big as Yirka - it is a lot more "modern" to her words. There is a high percentage of post-secondary education, most of which was acquired in Syria, where up until the civil war was offered for free to all Syrian citizens. As a background - you should know that up until 1967, the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon, including the four Druze villages  there - Majdal Shams, Mas'ade, Ein Kiniya and Buq'ata - were under Syrian rule, and their culture is quite different than what you'll find in the Galilee. One thinks of the border between Israel and Syria (sworn enemies since the establishment of the state of Israeli in 1948) as hermetically sealed, but in fact there was a dynamic flow of the Druze population between the countries - especially for weddings and for family reunions, but also for studying abroad. This lady's brother lived in Syria for many years - he went there to study medicine, got married and lived there until the war started, and then requested to return, and came back to Israel via Jordan with his wife and their children.

We finished our delicious breakfast, thanked the lady and crossed the street to where our car was parked, right in front of a bakery (the only other place that was already open by 9am). In front of it, two ladies sat on a bench and a couple of upside-down plastic grocery boxes, boiling water on a portable gas stove and sipping non other than mate from a dainty little jug. I was so astonished I could not hold my gasp of delight. In return, they offered me to sit down and join them, rinsing the bombilla with boiled water from the kettle and pouring fresh water over and over the mate to bring out the flavour time and again. I was so thrilled that even though we're only two hours drive from home, and are already experiencing new culture that is so different yet invites us to share a cup of tea together.
I had a couple of jugs of mate with them and thanked the big spirit that's in this world that encouraged me to finally set up on my tea journey. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tea with Pan

Danger - Mines! Golan Heights

When arriving in the arid, volcanic and mine-dotted land of the Golan Heights, it is hard to imagine that within it hides some of the most luxurious water resources of the country.

Golan - Banias

The strip of lush green in the midst of dead, dry grasses is in fact the creekside forest of the Banias creek. It is named after the Greek goat-god, Pan (Arabic does not have the letter "P" so it was replaced over the years with a "B" and stayed that way) , and the city of Panias that dwelled around its springs at the foothill of Mount Hermon (all the snow that melts penetrates the earth and comes out of these springs, and some others, into three creeks - Haztbani, Banias and Dan, which later joint forces to become the Joradn river). And inside that greenery hide sites such as this lovely waterfall:

Pan's Waterfall
We took two separate hikes, one to the Banias Fall (seen above) and another to the Banias Springs and the Temple of Pan. In contrast to the heat and dryness above the creek's canyon, it is hard to imagine a more befitting place for worshipping the green god Pan. You truly can feel the presence of the life force running through the creek, and even eighteen years in water-rich BC does not taint the wonder at such sight. The vegetation is spectacular, and includes side by side fig trees and Syrian maples, carobs, oaks and even ferns that grow alongside the pebbled creek and on the waterfall's rocks. There is a hanging trail there for part of the hike as well. And one more interesting point is a colony of rock hyrax that not only saw from up-close, but also smelled their dungy droppings - a mixture of civet, castoreum and maybe even a little bit of funky smell of goat droppings... you can see one of these creatures (a youngster) hiding among the carob tree's nooks and crannies, in the photo below. It looks a little bit like a squirrel because it is so blurry - but it does not have the typical long tail. Or any tail at all, for that matter.

Carob Hyrax Colony

Temple of Pan
Our second hike began at the springs of the Panias and the sacred area of the Temple of Pan which in fact are the ruins of three ancient Greek temples that were the core of the city of Panias): One for Pan, which is in the cave you can see in the photo of the springs, to which goats were sent as sacrifice, to ask Pan to bless the livestocks with fertility and health. Goats that disappeared in the river were considered to be received; those who left traces of blood were signs for trouble and prayers that were not accepted. Next to it was a temple for Zeus. And on the very far right - the temple and gravesite for the dancing holy goats. I am assuming these are the ones that were received as sacrifice. There are many other sites and remains along the Banias creek, namely a Druze prophet's graveyard at the top of the cave for Pan (Nabi Khader, which is their name for the prophet Eliyahu AKA Elijah), Agripas' palace, an old flour mill (operated by the creek), a synagogue, and more. The caves below formerly had statues of Pan and other gods and goddesses.

Temple of Pan

I was overjoyed by the wonderful smell of fig leaves, so green, fresh and slightly milky. The true scent characteristics of any watery area in Israel. And also there were maple trees, some reaching giant proportions, with many impressive hollows and hiding places. Fig leaves and cool creek's pebbles are a classic scent combination, made entirely by nature... I wish I could bottle that!

Traveling Tea Party at Pan's Creek
As we walked towards the old mill and Agripas' palace, we found a cool, shady spot to brew a cup of tea. And speaking of classic combinations: I brewed lemon verbena tea, and poured the concoction into my gourd to make a truly South American mate. Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) also originates in Argentina. We enjoyed it with some halva and ka'akat isfar which I will tell you more about at a later post. My only regret is not having more cups and not inviting the American tourists that sat next to us to catch their breath. Something to think about for party.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Preparing for the Sweat Lodge

Before a journey, there is preparation. And ours, though not stretching very far (we were set to go to Mount Hermon the next day) - had a purpose of cleansing and freeing one's mind from past heartbreak - I felt a strong urge to join a sweat lodge in the neighbouring community, on the way to Jath, called Adama.

It is strange that in all my years in Canada I never entered a sweat lodge, and even stranger that my first one would be lead by someone who is not from the First Nations. But I had a good feeling about the lady leading the ceremony. She learned the traditions from teachers in the Sierra Nevada, and so the plants were very different from those I'm familiar with from the West Coast that were burnt in some ceremonies I've attended. Cedar from the Sierra Nevada mountains is a completely different tree than the redcedar I learned to associate with the West Coast incense. There were also copious amounts of copal, both white and black and at times mingled with rose, that were burnt on the hot lava rocks. We were so close to the earth, and our hearts, and the very centre of the earth. We were a group of (mostly) strangers, yet felt so together and supported, safe and connected.

It's hard to explain the process of a sweat lodge. It is all very physical, yet at the same time works so deeply on the emotional, psychic and spiritual level. It was very challenging for me to take part in it - I hate to sweat, and I suffer from heat more than most people. But it was exactly the healing, cleansing and purifying thing I had to experience at that point in time. Coming out of it was almost like being reborn into the fresh air again, with new lungs and a new heart.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Adventure Begins

The Adventure Beings
A few years ago, I gave up on one futile dream (finding true love, giving my daughter siblings to play with and all those shenanigans) - and replaced it with the more humble and doable one:
Making a pot of tea together wherever we go.
In my fantasy, we'll be going to some remote places, with these simple pieces of equipment, an open mind and a willingness to step out of our comfort zone - and brew tea for others and perhaps also be invited to their brew.
I hope we make many new friends in the process, even for just the duration of the tea party.
And if not - at least we had a heck of a good cup of tea, outdoors.

I had the teapot for a long time now. It belongs to a lost love that by now I've given up 99% of hope to ever seeing again. I think after more than a year passed since two lovers have seen of each other is time to move on. At some point, the heart does not grow fonder from absence, but simply gets used to it and tries to forget the pain of being ripped apart by life's cruel injustices. The heart needs to give itself wings to fly and grow - and get itself smashed into the rocks again by another chapter of cruelty.

But I digress.... I had a kettle that can serve as a teapot -  stainless steel and lightweight as it should be. And also with sentimental value, which is always great for an object you plan to encircle the globe with. But I had no way to heat it up. I'm just take on the characteristics of a clueless chick when it comes to anything hardware or that remotely resembles camping-gear. For that reason alone, perhaps it is good that I met someone new to break my heart. We had a few outdoors tea parties together and I realized those portable little gas burners needn't be heavy nor complicated to operate, so I quickly acquired one for myself while my heart was still bleeding. Because of course I wanted nothing more in the world than to brew a pot of tea outdoors like he did for me. Apparently I'm the kind of masochist that likes to remind herself for as long as possible of the person that she should really forget about immediately.

Did I digress again? Sorry. It's all part of making the point that my repeatedly broken heart brings me eventually to the conclusion that really all I can do about it is make tea. I am a fully capable adult, I've accomplished plenty of things in my life, mostly all by myself,  including raising a child, which is probably the most challenging thing do to solo - and I'm pretty proud of it. The thing with relationships, is that you can't do them all by yourself. There is always another person involved, and that usually wrecks everything. I mean - the success of such operation is only 50% dependent on what I do or say, and 50% is entirely up to another person. Which so far hasn't really proven to be all that great... Maybe it's even worse than that: it's only third my responsibility, third the other person's, and another big third is left to chance/luck/serendipity/divine providence - call it whatever you like, it's something we have zero control over.

So here I am, finally hanging the towel and admitting I just can't do this. Especially not the heartbroken phase. It's just too painful, thankyouverymuch. Instead, I'm going to travel the world with my little girl (who is quite grown up now and loves to travel way more than I do), and on the way we're going to stop in places and make tea. Whomever is going to join us or interact with us is welcome to do so. And I hope we'll also be invited to a bunch of tea parties along the way. Our first destination is the area of Mt. Hermon where we set off for a little weekend adventure. And what we brewed and drank there I will tell you in the next few posts...

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My Rose Garden

The Bench

There is still no rose in site, but this is my soon-to-be rose garden.
It has a bench, so what else does it need (well, a few roses wouldn't hurt).
But firs I must do some research and find the exact roses I wish to plant here. First and foremost I am on the hunt for those used extensively in perfumery: Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia. Then I must find some hardy hybrid tea roses and old English roses that would withstand the hot and dry climate here. And they must smell amazing and also have impressive looks. I would rather wait till I find the right ones rather than plant the wrong ones and waste precious plot space...

The area for the rose garden used to be an enclosed area where some of my tenants (without any permission) built for a little herd of goats. It looked like a disaster when they lived here, and it was hard to kick them out. The tenants that followed were super nice, stayed for many years, and took advange of the freshly fertilized soil to make a little vegetable garden. It only has  two small plots, and is sitting too far behind the house to be practical for a vegetable garden, in my humble opinion. So I planted a vegetable garden right next to my house (on the sunny east side next to the Pilates studio). And these two plots I'm planning to fill with at least six rose bushes. Then I will also add a bird bath or a sundial (or both), and climber roses in all corners. It makes the perfect, hidden, romantic spot to sit on; but also my preferred spot for  for sitting and meditating, burning incense, and enjoying a few hours of shade in the hot summer mornings, and quiet reflection in the evening. Maybe even a moon garden if I find the right mix of plants that won't overshadow the rosiness during the day.

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My New Love

Wild Israeli Thyme (Coridothymus capitatus) on the rocky north coast 
They met by the sandstone cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea and the Lebanese border. He was there waiting for her for a while, and already found entire colonies of Coridothymus capitatus (Israeli Thyme). He held the little sprigs gently to her nose, allowing her to inhale its clean, warm, spicy, wild scent of mountains; exotic yet at the same time with the strong homecoming reassurance of za'atar in all its mundane glory.

Under the sandstone cliff there was a half-cave, protected from the wind and from prying eyes. And there he lay a straw mat and simmered water in a portable kettle with an improvised wooden handle on his little gas burner. From his knapsack he extracted what seems like a whole apothecary - little containers of dried herbs from his garden, raw brown sugar, yerbamate.

In they went, after he carefully examined each herb, as if communing shortly to see if it's the right leaf or twig, recalling the exact branch from which he picked them and which sunny spot in the garden they soaked up their healing powers: marjoram...wild white mint...thymbra...lemongrass... sensing which is right for this evening of almost-full-moon, and finishing off with the delicate spearmint, so it does not scorch.
Coridothymus capitatus

This entire brew was then poured into a fine little gourd finjan which was packed with dry mate. They sipped it from a delicate silver straw - savouring the mingled herbs and the astringent, tobacco-like mate.

The almost-full-moon lit the top of the salty waves with white streaks of light, competing with the red dots that lit along the sea-border. Maybe that is the time when love potions are supposed to be taken. When the moon is only almost full, so there can be a rerun the next night and the next?

Slowly their hearts opened and got closer. Or maybe it was just the poison of thymol seeping in through their veins and making them more brave than common sense would suggest. Or perhaps it was a metaphoric counter balance to the two dark silhouettes of the IDF navy boat patrolling the north frontier, approaching each other, ignoring each other, merging with one another. Blacking out.

Whether the thymol is their poison or medicine, they're yet to find out. For now let them enjoy the salty air mingled with juicy watermelon and coridothymus' floral, warm and cleansing purifying aura that erases from the heart all such worries.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Little Herb Garden

Treasures from the mountain

The last two weeks I've delved right into exploring the medicinal wild plants that grow around here. For a short time I had a herbalist to show and share with me some of this wealth of plant wisdom. Now that this guide is gone, I'm lead only by the pleasantly infectious inspiration. There is an overwhelming abundance that is going to provide me with a lifetime of learning (according to Floral Palestina, this land is blessed with close to 2,700 species of wild plants!). I've been hiking in the surrounding areas and conservatively collecting branches for slips and re-planting in my little herbal garden. This of course will is part of the Perfumer's Botanical Garden I'm establishing around the studio.

I'm showing you the early beginning, although they look quite unimpressive on camera. In person they have the charm of new beginnings as well as virgin strip of land and stony terrain and distant view of the Mediterranean; I am also delighted by the gentle healing energy that emanates from the plants for those who connect to these types of being. And for those who find it more difficult to connect to plants that way - the scents that each provide speak for themselves. Even a little stroke on each plant will give off the scent and you can mix and match to create your own "finger perfume".

Morning in the medicinal herb garden

From the wild, I've adopted some amazing plants - both old and new to me, that grow on the mountain behind my house. So all in all, my botanical collection is rapidly growing - even beyond the original wishlist I've created. And I'm rather happy with it.

From my slip foraging, I managed to keep alive a couple of types of germanders - Cretan germander (Teucrium creticum), which looks a lot like rosemary but smells completely different - more like olive leaf, actually, and likewise has an intensely bitter taste; and cat-thyme germander (Teucrium capitatum), which has a sweet, almost resinous fragrant silvery foliage. The latter is highly medicinal and rivals only the local wild sage (Salvia fruticosa), more of the Savory of Crete (Satureja thymbra) and a similar plant, with an almost identical flavour and fragrance that has flowers with a structure similar to Lavandula dentata, which is called Spiked Savoury (Thymbra spicata). It would be difficult to find information online in English on many of these plants because they are unique to Israel.  I've also adopted some cistus plants, although they are not the Cistus ladaniferus I am seeking but two other local species that are not as resinous, yet somewhat fragrant depending on the season. And I am crossing my fingers that two seedlings of bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) that my herbalist guide carefully uprooted from the wadi (dry creek) floor, will also survive and make it to the miniature forest I want to create behind the perfume studio. And most immortally - I am hoping that the two little twigs of Israeli Thyme (Coridothymus capitatus) that we found on the rocky North beach will grow up some roots and flourish. They are quite rare site here inland, and in fact a protected species. They have a striking look when they get mature and an intense yet slightly floral aroma that I love. It truly deserves a post of its own, with photos and all. Along with Origanum syriacum (also grown in my garden), the other varieties of thyme and savoury I mentioned before, some sumac and sesame seeds it forms the spice mixture called "Za'atar" that some of you may be familiar with from Lebanese grocery stores and Middle Eastern restaurants.

Thymbra spicata צתרנית משובלת

Naturally growing wild in my garden is also white horehound (Marrubium vulgare), a highly medicinal plant that grows in astounding abundance, several mastic bushes and probably more plants that I did not know were medicinal but will find out later. There are also still two plants that I found on the mountain to make slips that I haven't identified yet, so the search is not over. Lastly, I scattered seeds of blood helicrysum, a local wild plant (Helichrysum sanguinum) which I also hope will come out next winter. By that time I hope I will forget about it altogether so it will just be a pleasant surprise...

Dam HaMakabim (Helicrysum sanguinum) coming into seed

Lastly, to be fair and square, I promised to tell you which plants I put in from the nursery (the ones my brother brought me), so that you know if you guessed it right. They were several types of lavender (mountain Savory of Crete (Satureja thymbra), several types of lavender (Lavandula pinnate, L. dentate, L. angustifolia), one artemisia and - to my utmost excitement - two immortelles (Helicrysum italicum), often called "curry plant".

Morning in the medicinal herb garden

Also you should know, that among those who participated in this context, we got two worthy winners who will receive a sample kit of all my herbaceous fragrances,  are Ruby Clover and Melissa Menard. The kit includes ArbitRary for the basil, Ayalitta for the sage, Immortelle l'Amour for the immortelle of course, l'Herbe Rouge for the lemongrass, hay and lavender and Lovender - which is quite obvious. I've also included a sniff-peak of Inbar, my new, wild-oregano infused amber concoction which is not even for sale quite yet :-)

Putting together the kits made me also realize how little attention I've been giving the herbaceous notes.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017


Caper plant (Capparis spinosa)
Legend has it that the caper plants originate in the Western Wall, where the little folded letters containing the prayers, dreams and promises of the pilgrims are transformed into beautiful white caper blossoms, blooming for a day and sending the prayers to heaven.

Many of the prayers are of barren couples who beg for a child of their own. Perhaps that is why these caper flowers are considered a remedy for fertility, as are the roots of the the plant. But this is only one of the many medicinal qualities attributed to capers in herbal and folk medicines. I will only highlight a few that I read about: The entire plant parts (root, leaves, fruit) were used as remedy for toothache, and an infusion of the fruit after it has been boiled in water is considered to aid those suffering from diabetes. The fruit and the root, when ground up, are placed for short periods on aching joints to relieve joint pain (long exposure of the skin will create burns). Despite all its many therapeutic values, caper is not a very common plant in the modern pharmacopeia -perhaps because of the emphasis on it as a culinary item.

Caper (Capparis spinosa) buds on the bush
The pickled capers most people are familiar with are the buds of Capparis spinosaIt grows here in the wild, and quite in abundance. What's special about it is that it blooms all summer long, from May through September - an unusual quality in those scorching months, which on its own alludes to nearly magical qualities.

Soaking caper buds for pickling

My first jar which I've pickled about three weeks ago turned to be quite the delicacy, so I thought I'd better hurry and go get some more buds before the season is over. As it turns out - in the meantime, the plants developed their fruit (AKA caper berries). They look like plump and short cucumbers are also very pickle-able, as are the leaves and stems of this plant.

Caper berries

I was pleased to learn that the blooming season is rather long, and will continue all summer. The hardiness of the plants around here to the arid conditions is amazing to me. I can barely survive a hot day and they can endure all summer with very little water from dew and that which is found deep in the crevices of rocks.

Capers has interesting history and uses - both culinary and medicinal. The famous "Cypriot wine" mentioned in the Talmud as well as in the Jewish daily prayer (used in the preparation of incense) was intact wine made of capers.

Capers have a unique flavour that is a tad mustard-like which develops while they pickle and release the glucocamparin (mustard oil) within them. Through the picking process, white or violet coloured dots will form on the buds, which contain the citrus flavalnol ruin, which is also dominant in asparagus, buckwheat flour and black raspberry. The stems can be added to yogurt, and both the stems and leaves can be pickled and added to salads.

Recipe for pickling capers:
The hardest part about this task is the actual harvest: the bushes are equipped with hook-shaped thorns that are quite vicious. Once you endured a few of these claws-in-flesh encounters, and collected enough caper buds or berries, soak them in water for three days, changing the water daily.

To pickle, sterilize a clean jar by rinsing with boiling water, fill with the capers, and cover with the salt and vinegar solution:

1/2 cup filtered or spring water
1/2 cup appel cider vinegar 
1 Tbs salt

Season with:
2-4 Bay leaves 
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds, whole 
(Both are local spices, so to speak, that grow wild)

Marinate for one week, then keep refrigerated. The pickled buds can be used as a flavourful garnish to sandwiches to offset fatty elements such as cheese and smoked salmon. It's great as an addition to salads, marinates, stuffed vegetables, and just to eat on their own on the side with ripe watermelon or charcuterie. It can also be used to make tartar sauce, pasta sauce (spaghetti ala puttanesca, anyone?) - and just anything else your imagination may take you to.

As for the pickled caper berries (or fruit) - I have one more week to wait till they are ready. So will report later.

Pickling capers

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

Herbaceous Contest

Ready for Planting

This is my dear brother's contribution to my botanical garden. Can you guess which perfume and medicinal herbs are just about to be planted?
Hint: I am very excited about them!
Post your guess here and enter to win a sampler kit of perfumes I made that contain herbs I have planted so far in my garden!

Those who answered most correctly will be entered into the draw, and the winners will be announced on Monday.

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Coming Into Seed

Coming Into Seed
The rainy season came and went, the explosion of spring flowers has quieted down, and was replaced by lacy white flowers from the carrot family. Now that the rain stopped completely, we seems to be entering a period of gradual death. First some of the wild oats has taken the bright colour of gold, and bit by bit all the lush green wile plants are changing into the summer foliage: slimmer, and at times thorny leaves that will prevent loss of moisture in the upcoming months.

Artedia squamata
I've been through this season at least twenty times before, but never experienced it this way. There is so much beauty in this late spring, entering summertime. The intolerable heat of summer is inevitable but it is not here quite yet. And there are still plenty of flowers: hollyhocks, lacy white doilies of wild carrots, Queen Anne's Lace and many other from the umbellifera family. The tiny ones look like floating bubbles, the medium ones stick together to form bridal gowns of the wildest designs, and the largest of all make a fashion statement like an Italian straw hat that a famous actress would wear.

Artedia squamata

All of the spring flowers (except of the late bloomers that are still churning up pollen and nectar) have already gone to seeds. My brothers and I are collecting some of our favourites (e.g., Ricotia lunaria) and spread them around so they will grow in more places next year. There is magic in knowing that within all that dry death that came upon the flowers - there is promise for much life and continuity next year. It somehow makes me feel better about my grandmother too.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Early Beginnings

Perfumer's Garden - Mountain Path

Do not mistake my lack of posting for lack of action. It's been quite the opposite - the most action-packed few months of my life. Here is what I've accomplished - to put your minds at ease and satisfy any curiosity that might have remained among those of you who haven't given up on SmellyBlog yet:

- Designed, planned agonized over and built a new Perfume studio, Pilates studio - and renovated my old home) while making new friends with the builders and architects involved
- Lived in a yurt for 4 months (November through March) while I was at it - and also found myself adopting a cat of all creatures (not intentional, but seems to work out)
- Transitioned my daughter into a Hebrew-speaking high school for another two years of education
- Moved from the yurt to the house
- Adopted a rescued female Doberman (that was a dream come true)
- Taught two Perfumery Courses back to back: Fougere and Orientals (while meeting with Dan Riegler - a Canadian- Israeli from Ontario who gifted me with the most incredible incense resins imaginable - more on that in a separate post
- Became auntie to one more niece and nephew (that was quite effortless!)
- Continue to try and establish my perfumery studio (and Pilates studio) in the new surroundings
- Try my best to be with my grandma, who's 93 years young and had a heart event about a month ago. Every moment with her is so pure and precious.
- Planning and beginning to plant my Perfumer's Botanical Garden, which is truly taking much of my time and is the main reason I haven't been blogging. The photo above is from the section of it that is on the mountain and is dedicated to fragrant Mediterranean plans and medicine herbs.

I spend very little time around the computer (after months of wifi & electricity-free yurt life and bad battery in my laptop - old habits have been broken to little shreds and I only post quick updates via my phone on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts)
Hopefully I've gotten to the point when I'm settled down to return to regular blogging - as demanding as life has been all these months, I know deep in my heart that it does do me good to write regularly. It's not just a fragrance/perfumery blog, but also functions as a personal journal to me.

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