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Miriamiya, “Sage of Virtue,” and other aromatic herbs

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 17.03.2006:

A fair damsel (girl) of Artas, just returned from the market in Bethlehem, came into the room with her hands held awkwardly behind her back. “O lady,” she began, in the breathless tone of one who has considered what best to say while walking all the way back home and must get it out at once, “O lady, I went to the market for the meat for supper, just as you bid me, and there was none in the market save that of a camel which had been run over by a motor car, and I knew you wouldn’t like that. But I have brought you this,” and with a great flourish she produced a plant of Sage torn up by the roots. “O Miriamiya! O Blessed Thing” (Ya Miriamiya, Ya Mubarake) cried those who recognised it. “Yes” (triumphantly) “and I had to carry it back all the way under my dress for fear of the Government (this is because the plant is too valuable to be rooted up carelessly). I knew if I brought you this you wouldn’t mind about the meat.” A chorus of approval from the botanists followed. “Truly plants are our meat and drink,” they said, “and this one is blessed beyond all others. Thanks to you for bringing it” (negligently, as an afterthought), “we will have eggs for supper.”

But why is the Miriamiya so blessed? This is the story of the Miriamiya. When Our Lady Miriam fled from King Herod into Egypt with Our Lord Jesus and he was yet a little Child, she sat down, weary, under the shade of a shrub. And she broke a sprig from the shrub and wiped the sweat from her face with the leaves until she found refreshment because of its fragrance. Then she said to the plant “Be thou blessed for ever” and since that day the plant is called Miriamiya in her memory, and truly it is blessed.

So the women of Palestine value and love the plant, believing it full of healthful virtue. The leaves are sometimes used in an infusion with sugar or honey, but more usually they are chewed while fresh. Sometimes the leaves are thrown on red hot charcoal to incense a room “to keep illness away,” a most reasonable disinfection.

Source: From Cedar to Hyssop: A Study in Plant Folk Lore.

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