Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila Yudkin | about hyssop

 

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“SO THEY PUT A SPONGE FULL OF THE WINE ON A
BRANCH OF HYSSOP AND HELD IT TO HIS MOUTH"
JOHN 19
 

Ask Gila about Hyssop

  • Mike and I were talking last night about our trip to the Holy Land this year and were remembering the great spices while in Jerusalem.  One of the spices we tasted while we were coming out of Old Jerusalem and preparing to board our tour bus.  There was a street vendor with fresh bread and seasonings, green in color.  It was kind of salty and herb flavored.  Do you know what spices were in that little sample he gave us to dip our bread into when eating?
    Sharon Stonehouse, San Jose, California
The spice is hyssop.  In Arabic, it’s called za’atar.  Its Latin name is Origanum syriacum.  Syrian hyssop grows wild throughout the Holy Land, particularly in stony ground.  The Syrian hyssop is a stout, many-stemmed gray hairy shrub, about two feet tall.  In summer its white, rather small flowers are grouped in dense spikes on the upper part of the branches.  The taste of hyssop is similar to oregano.  It's in the marjoram family.

You could say that it's our national spice. When we buy fresh bagele, which are huge oblong rolls covered with sesame seeds, the Old City vendor gives us a little triangular packet of za’atar to spice the bread.  The Za’atar packet is actually hyssop, mixed with a bit of thyme, salt, and toasted sesame seeds.
 

Hyssop spice inside the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Bagele for sale inside the Jaffa Gate, Old City Jerusalem

Za’atar is very popular in modern-day Israel where it’s sprinkled on bread and used in sauces.  A typical Palestinian breakfast often includes a round sour-dough bread with an indentation shaped like a flat bowl filled with olive oil and flavored with za’atar.

Hyssop spices the oblong sesame seed rolls we call bagele

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Inside the black plastic bag is hyssop, called za'atar in Arabic

Assortment of spices sold in Jerusalem's Old City market

My good friend Miriam Feinberg Vamosh in her best-selling “Food at the Time of the Bible,” includes 3 Biblical recipes which are spiced with hyssop.

One of them, a tasty yogurt soup, is called “Jael’s Labenah” because of the following verse from Judges 5:25, “She brought him curdled milk.” When Deborah was judge in Israel, she sent Barak to lead the Israelite forces against the Canaanites.  When the Canaanite army was defeated, Sisera, the Canaanite general, fled to the tent of Jael and asked for water.  Instead, she gave him curdled milk which made him drowsy.  Once he was asleep, she hammered a tent peg through his temple. 

This yogurt dish, spiced with hyssop, is made by Beduin and popular to this very day -- but not for the same reason!

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Above is a photo of the variety of spices sold in Jerusalem's Old City market.  Besides hyssop, other popular spices are cumin, cinnamon, cardamom used to flavor Turkish coffee, and even frankincense and myrrh.

On your next trip to Jerusalem, be sure to check out the Old City spice market!

Coming to Jerusalem in 2017?  Does the hustle and bustle of the market give you a high, yet you would like some quiet moments in the holy sites?  Are you eager to eat humus and knafe elbow-to-elbow with the "natives," or is dining in the style of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba more to your taste?

Gila's Unorthodox Guide will lift up your spirit as you "Explore Jerusalem's Soul."  The up-to-date PDF (Adobe Acrobat) 46-page guide gives you the Top Ten places to meditate on the Bible, the Top Ten lesser-known churches worth visiting, the Top Ten most rewarding roof-top views and the Top Ten places for sampling yummy Middle Eastern soul food.  More on Gila's Guide...

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Along with the ephah of parched grain, ten loaves and cheeses that David delivered to his eldest brothers fighting with Saul against the Philistines, he may have even brought some hyssop along to spice the bread.  Could it be that it was in the pouch where he kept his slingshot which killed Goliath?
 
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GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com


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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin