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- / 2013 Go the Spicy Way/ HAMODIA
Go the Spicy Way
Rhona Lewis
For more than fifty years, the Zitherspieler family has been growing organic herbs and spices on moshav Beit Lechem Haglilit in northern Israel. Today, the original fields of the family farm have expanded to include a processing plant that combines years of knowledge with modern day know-how to harness the power of herbs and spices. In addition, at the Spicy Way Visitor Center, visitors can find over 500 herbs, spices and blends and learn about the special properties of these versatile plants and how to use them to enhance health and well-being. So go the Spicy Way!
 
A Child Herbalist
In 1906, the Templers, a German Protestant sect that originally settled near Haifa, established Bethlehem of the Galilee as a Templer colony. At the start of the Second World War, the Templers were declared enemy aliens by the British and most were ousted to Australia. In 1948, the Haganah captured the village and the elegant two-storey houses were resettled by Jewish farmers in what became Beit Lechem HaGlilit. After the war, Zvi Zitherspieler, originally from Poland, moved to the moshav. Aided by the vast knowledge of a fellow farmer near Zichron Yaakov, he began to grow marjoram, lemon verbena and micromeria (a type of mint). Today, Avi Zithershpieler, who inherited his passion for agricultural and natural values from his late father, grows, dries, and blends herbs and spices.
 We were organic without knowing it, Avi jokes as he reminisces about his childhood on his fathers farm. Avis fascination with the plant world herbs is rooted in his childhood experiences. I would come home from school, hang my bag on the fence and start weeding and picking herbs. Only when it was dark, did I actually go home, he says. The familys hard work paid off and somehow, word of their success reached all the way to America. One day a large Cadillac drew up outside our home, Avi recalls. A visitor from America was a rare occurrence in those days. The man was a representative of Baltimore Spices, and after seeing the way that we grew oregano, he decided to import the herb from us to support Israeli agriculture.
 My father was an innovator and always reaching for new horizons. When I was about ten years old, we got an order from a French company that was developing a drug to strengthen heart muscles, for one hundred kilos of spoterium pinosum. My father accepted the order, but of course, he had no idea what the plant was. I was dispatched to my biology teacher, who told me that the plant was known as sira kozanit in Hebrew. This common shrub, which covers the hillsides of Israel with its thorns and red berries, is known as brushwood in English. We applied for and were granted a permit to harvest a small half dunam (an eighth of an acre) plot in the Carmel Mountainssomething that would never be allowed today. We worked hard and fast to uproot one hundred kilos of roots and with the large amount of money we earned, my father bought our first fridge.
 
On the Farm Today
Were still using the same simple farming methods that we used when we started the farm, says Avi. The soil is full of the necessary nutrients because my father maintained it by fertilizing with manure and some years leaving the land fallow. He would also rotate the crops grown on a plot. Since each plant requires different nutrients, the soil had a chance to regenerate itself. My father taught me a particularly effective method of tilling the groundhe used shallow ploughing that doesnt push the bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to the plants deep into the soil where the plant roots cannot reach them. Ive continued using the methods that he taught me. Our plants are strong and healthy and have no need for fertilizers or pesticides because they are strong enough to naturally repel pests. To explain how plants can naturally repel pests, Avi uses the example of the tobacco plant. Nicotine is synthesized in the roots of the tobacco plant and then stored in its leaves. The unpleasant taste of this chemical repels insects. Its so effective as a repellant that for a while, nicotine was even used as an insect repellent, Avi says.
 Visitors to the Spicy Way can see a spectacular view of long rows of organically cultivated colorful and aromatic herbs behind the shopping facility. Once these spices and herbs are harvested, (by hand of course!) they must be dried. Over the years weve developed a way to dry the plants without harming them and losing some of the health bebefits. There is no shortage of wind and sun in the Jezreel Valley and we take advantage of these to shorten the drying period. Since this method doesnt work well with winter herbs such as parsley, dill and ciliantro, we buy these products from a reputable Israeli company that I worked in for a few years.
 Spicy Way stocks a wide variety of paprikas with various degrees of sweetness and piquancy. Here, processing of the popular spice begins by laying the long, thin red pods of chili peppers in the sun on nylon sheets for four to five days and then allowing them to dry for two weeks. The pods are then smoked by placing them on nets over burning rosemary, mint and micromeria branches. Hot paprika is made by grinding the whole peppers; sweet paprika is made by grinding the peppers without the seeds. This smoked paprika has a unique taste.
 Rabbi Zamir of Sde Yaakov, a religious moshav in the Jezreel Valley has been responsible for the kashrus of Avis farm for twenty years. He visits the farm with mashgichim to check the plants for bugs and to take trumos and maaisros. Products are under the auspices of the Jezreel Valley rabbanut.
 
Accessing the Benefits in Medicinal Plants
When you spice your life, you are doing more than simply indulging your taste buds. Many herbs and plants contain active substances such as metabolites, antioxidants,  vitamins, minerals, and other microelements. Through eating seasoned foodstuffs, herbs and spices are broken down and absorbed through the digestive system into the blood. They travel throughout the body to the respiratory, nervous, and circulatory systems to prevent or heal inflammation and infection. In addition, they also help the release of toxins from the body. Exactly how all of these substances work is a mystery that modern science is still in the midst of solving. Everyone knows that vitamin C is a terrific boost to the immune system, but less is known about some of the other microelements.
Metabolites
 A metabolite is a chemical compound that aids metabolism and is involved in normal growth and development. Paprika, the famous Hungarian version of which was grown since 1529 by the Turks in Budapest, contains capsaicin, a metabolite that gives paprika its familiar burn. This irritant produces a sensation of burning in any tissue of mammals that it touches. Only cold milk and a weak sugar water solution can neutralize the painful affect. Interestingly, the specific receptors that react to capsaicin are missing in birds, so they can consume chili peppers and so disperse the seeds without any trouble at all. The burning sensation caused by capsaicin actually raises the internal temperature of the body, says Avi. Since this rise in temperature is achieved by burning off calories, a spicy curry is, in fact, less fattening than you may think!
 While some researchers beg to differ with Avi, they do agree that there is a positive correlation between ingesting capsaicin and a decrease in how much weight youll regain after reaching your diet goal. So once youve lost that weight, make sure to keep sprinkling paprika in your food. And if that isnt enough to convince you, remember that paprika contains more vitamin C by weight than does lemon juice.
 
Antioxidants
Like metabolites, antioxidants found in abundance in fresh produce, are vital to a healthy body. Antioxidants are beneficial because they fight free radicals present in our bodies and may reduce, or even help prevent, some of the damage they cause. Free radicals are molecules in the body which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Turmeric, a relative of ginger native to southern Asia, which is used to give curries (as well as mustard, butter and cheese) a deep yellow color is an excellent source of antioxidants. Turmeric contains curcumin which is a powerful antioxidant. Curcumin alters the chemical structure of free radicals by donating them an extra electron while maintaining its own stable chemical structure. Like a candle, it gives of itself, but retains its own strength. If youre looking to sprinkle antioxidants onto your food, think of oregano, sage, lavender and peppermint which all contain plenty of this beneficial microelement. And use rosemary on your roast potatoesthe herb boasts ten times the amount of antioxidants that other herbs contain.
 
Blending
While every medicinal plant has its own flavor and benefits to offer, blends of complimentary herbs and spices are extremely popular. Thirty years of experience go into blending our spices. In Israel, where the population is so varied, we now cater to Tunisian, Ethiopian and even Druse specialty blends, says Avi. By sprinkling on a few tablespoons of one of the Fast Gourmet specialty blends produced by the Spicy Way, rice, salads, meat and vegetables become an aromatic, finger-licking experience.
 But blending isnt just a matter of taste. As a certified clinical herbalist, Avi uses the synergy of plants to get the optimum out of nature. Simply put, this means knowing which herbs to combine to mine their maximum strength. Avi puts together his excellent knowledge of herbs with the facts of anatomy and physiology. For example, a herbal blend that Spicy Way produces to treat hair loss is a combination of herbs each of which contributes its specialty: rosemary, nettle and calendula (a type of marigold) increase the blood flow throughout the body which is turn strengthens the roots of the hair; serenoa repens (saw palmetto) balances out the hormones by increasing body levels of testosterone; while linden and verbena treat tension which is a common cause of the problem by having a calming effect on the body.
 
It Makes Sense
Benefits Through the Sense of Smell
Not every medicinal plant needs to be ingested. You can use your sense of smell and touch too to gain the benefits.
Your sense of smell is the gatekeeper of your body and prevents you from ingesting anything harmful. Did you ever notice how the warm aroma of brewing coffee suddenly loses it appeal when you feel ill? If you have a cold, you cannot smell it, so I mean when youre ill. The sense of smell can also be used positively, says Avi. By rubbing the leaves or the seeds of a plant between your fingers and smelling it, some of the plants substances enter your body through the respiratory system. As these substances stimulate the brain, serotonin levels rise and positive feelings are generated. Serotonin is a chemical produced by the brain. Low serotonin levels are associated with mood disorders, particularly depression. Lavender is another plant that you will want to inhale because it is known to induce relaxation and sleep. Rub a few dried lavender flowers between your fingertips to release the beneficial smell. And when the children start coughing, try giving them eucalyptus, aniseed or fennel to smell. The child can rub eucalyptus leaves or aniseed and fennel seeds between his fingers. Alternately, you can place a few drops of the essential oils, which can be purchased in any health food store on a tissue near the childs pillow. Eucalyptus contains methanol, while aniseed and fennel contain the chemical anetol; both open the bronchial tubes in the lungs.
Touch
Your skin can easily absorb some of any plants substances. One method is by using a poultice. If you have an infection, finely grate a fresh onion and add a little turmeric and olive oil to make a paste. Spread the paste on the infection and cover it with plastic wrap. Another good antiseptic mixture is to soak a warmed up bandage in turmeric and olive oil and apply to the wound for thirty to forty minutes.
 
Side Bars
While the health benefits of many plants are released by soaking the plant in hot water, others need to be soaked in oil or alcohol in order for the plant to break down. Here are some herbal remedies that you may want to try. To avoid any problems with bugs that may be stuck to the leaves, place the leaves in a strainer that can be immersed into a mug. This also makes it easier to remove the leaves.
Steep in Water
Passion fruit and lemon infusion for the relief of tension
Mix equal amounts of passion fruit leaves, lemon verbena, and lemon balm (melissa). Use one and a half teaspoons of leaves to every cup of hot water. Steep for ten minutes.
Note: Passion fruit leaves are an important aid against insomnia. This is a soothing herbal mixture that helps induce sleep and reduce tension.
 
Soak in Oil
Herbal mixture for fortifying hair roots and treating dandruff and an itchy scalp.
Make an extraction by placing a mixture of rosemary, nettle and calendula leaves in olive oil in a glass jar. The ratio is one cup of each of the three herbs to one and a half cups of oil. Let it stand at room temperature for about two weeks in a well-lit area. After two weeks, massage the hair with the oil three times a week for about a half hour and then shampoo the hair.
Black Cumin for a better metabolic rate and vitamin B
Use olive oil spiced with black cumin seeds in salads or as a dip with bread and cheese.
Fill a jar half way with black cumin that has been checked in the same way that sesame is checked and fill up the rest of the jar with olive oil. Close tightly and shake once or twice a day. After one month, you will have a therapeutic oil that speeds up the metabolism and helps the body release sugar, making it a good choice for diabetics. The oil is also an excellent source of folic acid and vitamin B complex, although it doesnt contain vitamin B12.
 
Easing Winter with Herbs and Medicinal Plants
How can I stay warm in the winter?
Everyone knows that a hot, thick soup will warm you up on the coldest of days. Avi advises cooks to go one step further. Make an orange soup based on carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Spice it up with mace, the outer peel of nutmeg, because mace warms up the body, he says. Similarly, make sure to add mustard seeds to your cabbage salad. Not only does it taste delicious, but mustard seeds boost your immune system and speed up your metabolism, keeping you warm. If youre a tea drinker, prepare an infusion that blends hyssop, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom which all increase the flow of blood to your extremities (arms and legs), thus keeping you warm.
How can I build up my immune system?
Prepare an infusion of medicinal plants rich in vitamin C such as rose hips and elderberry. Infusions based on hyssop, sage, and echinacea also boost your immune system and help the body fight the onset of illness.
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