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Herbs of Palestine

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 18.02.2006:

Shomar (fennel). This plant grows wild and is gathered for salads and used for medicinal purposes.

Miryamia (mint). When Mary fled from King Herod to Egypt with her child Jesus, she sat down under the shade of a scrub. She took a sprig and wiped with the leaves the sweat from her face. Finding refreshment she said to the plant: “Be thou blessed forever.” Since that day the plant is called Miryamia (Miryam is the Arabic name for Mary). It gives a mint taste and is mainly used in tea.

Na’na’. Another mint type which is frequently used in Palestinian dishes and salads. It is given to the baby against stomach ache. Mothers used to mix it with flour and arak. The mix was spread out on a piece of cloth which was then put on the baby’s stomach for one hour. When the mixture hardened it was removed.

Babounej (camomile). A very common plant in Palestine. The head of its flower or sometimes the whole plant is used for a tea mixture or as a medicine against fever or abdominal pains.

Za’ater (thyme). Za’ater is made of dried thyme, sesame seed and sumac. Used to make food spicier, it comes close to what may be called a national Palestinian dish. At breakfast pieces of pita bread are dipped in oil and then in za’ater. With its many vitamins, za’ater is very healthy and sometimes used as a medicine to cure a throat ache by putting the herb substance in boiled water. Za’ater with oil is a well-known measure against rheumatism. Small bottles with za’ater used to be sent to Russia as an alternative medicine for old people.

There are also magical purposes assigned to za’ater. The one who eats powdered dried leaves of za’ater for forty days will not be harmed by a serpent. Having a mixture of za’ater and oil in your home leads to prosperity.

From: “Sahteen: Discover the Palestinian Culture by Eating”, published by the Freres School, Bethlehem, part of the Culture and Palestine series issued by the Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows, Bethlehem, 1999. To order the book, send a mail to

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