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November 18 - November 25

Question of the Week

Name: Simcha
Status: student
Grade: other
Location: Outside U.S.
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2014


In a Hebrew book authored about 400 years ago I found the description of a plant, and I would greatly appreciate your help in identifying it:

A grass that has very long and wide leaves like lettuce (radish?), and even larger, their length is two handbreadth (approximately 45 cm). In the middle of where the leaves go out from is a very long and high stalk more than one and a half cubits (approximately 3 feet), from this stock the produce grows, and from the whole stalk grows something very much like cotton, except it is not white like it. Its juice is beneficial to be given to drink to someone with urinary sickness, who cannot hold back and needs to urinate every hour/time.

The book is "Shaar Hagilgulim" - "Gate of Reincarnations" one of the 8 gates of the classic books of the holy master Cabalist known as the the Arizal - Rabbi Isaac Luria, which were written by his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital. The Arizal taught Rabbi Chaim Vital in the city Safed - which is in Northern Israel, however both of them spent many years outside of Israel --- The Arizal lived for many years in Egypt, and Rabbi Chaim Vital lived in Damascus.

The quotation is from the "36th introduction" (the chapters of this book are presented as introductions) in which Rabbi Chaim Vital documents a few different herbs and their values as he heard and received from the Arizal. You can download the book for free from here:

Answers from Our Expert Staff

Without additional information it is basically impossible to figure what the exact plant may be. As the author himself wrote (introduction to this subsection) ?These were not given over in their details only in a general way.? Sorry that I cannot be of any help on this.

Mordechai Millunchick
Author, Midarkai Ha'ilanot, 2012 (Agricultural Religious Law)

Well, lettuce seeds are borne on a tall stem with leaves, and they are tufted and look off-white before being harvested. Also, lettuce induces urination, according to Roman and Chinese herbals, although mashma from the text that the herb reduces the need to urinate. I will check, the book of herbs by Nissim Chrispeel and see if something fits. I found the Chapter 36 in Chaim Vital's book, but until I found the relevant bit about plants I was swimming in the most abstruse kinds of mysticism. I am older than 40 (years ago, I warded off a door-to-door Zohar salesman by saying "I'm not yet 40!" and closing the door; I was so much younger then...), but I still would rather study other things.

Joshua D. Klein, PhD
Head Researcher
Unit for Agriculture According to the Torah
Department of Agronomy and Natural Resources
Institute of Plant Sciences
Agricultural Research Organization - the Volcani Center

Shlomo Goren, PhD (Hebrew University, Faculty of Agriculture)
Postdoctoral fellow (under the auspices of Hebrew University, Faculty of Agriculture)

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