Anyone who has spent more than a day in Israel knows that this land yields some pretty impressive and delicious produce – plus a world of healing from these fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. Quite a feat for a place that consists primarily of desert land. As we pass Independence Day and move toward Shavuot, we not only celebrate the Jewish festival of weeks, but also the beginning of the harvest season in Israel.
For generations, the land has been giving its people infinite opportunities to make use of its fertile bounty to nourish their bodies and souls. In a world where heavily mass-produced food items have become the norm, there are still some companies making full use of the land and its natural resources to improve the lives of its customers in a way that respects and sustains the land, as well as the people on it.
UZI-ELI: THE ETROG MAN Natural fruit juice stands are as synonymous with Israel as your local falafel stand, but Uzi-Eli’s at Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market is different.
As there are 70 faces of the Torah, according to Maimonides, there are 70 different healing properties found in the etrog fruit. Coincidence? Probably not, but Uzi- Eli Hezi, “The Etrog Man” at this always crowded stand at the Mahaneh Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, has been squeezing a dizzying array of what he calls healing properties out of this biblically significant plant since his childhood.
Claiming to be a direct descendant of the aforementioned physician and Torah scholar, he is also the third generation of mystical healers hailing from Yemen.
Despite being a fruit synonymous with the holiday of Succot, Hezi has been unlocking the seemingly limitless potential of this citrus fruit all year long for his loyal customers for more than a decade. He opened his popular stand back in 2005 offering a variety of etrog-based products as a way to heal his customers or “patients.” He quickly built a reputation on being a healer relying on techniques passed down from the generations and his fully stocked “pharmacy” of natural juices, tonics, lotions, serums and soaps. The etrogim from his stands come from moshavim all over the country and are said to combat fatigue, stress, anxiety, digestion and general pain.
This always-busy stand offers about a dozen pre-made juices including etrogat, which is a mix of etrog juice, gat (a plant, when extracted or chewed, that is known to provide a potent boost of energy) and a hint of grapefruit, passion fruit juice mixed with goat yogurt, which not only are the stand’s top sellers but also go quite well together when the two juices are combined.
There’s also a rainbow of other juices offering remedies to what could be ailing his nearly 300 daily customers. All of this can be quite an attractive selling point for those looking for a quick fix to get them through the day.
Today, his children are the fourth generation of the flourishing family business. His daughter works in the Jerusalem branch, while his son runs the somewhat new branch in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.
Hezi, the youthful-looking 75 year old who starts every day with a spray to the face from his famed etrog mist and a glass of pomegranate, apple and cayenne pepper juice, reminds me, “Everything that grows from the ground is good for something.”
PALETAS What’s summer without those sticky sweet popsicles known here as artikim? After coming to the harsh realization that these sweet and nostalgic treats from most of our collective memories were essentially frozen sugar water, Jerusalem native Nomi Zysblat was inspired to provide her fellow Israelis with a refreshing natural and healthy alternative to what was already available.
When she discovered the infinite possibilities the Mexican frozen treats known as paletas offered, while working in the culinary industry in New York City, Zysblat was inspired to apply this method of combining natural frozen fruit juices on a stick to refresh Israelis in a more healthy and natural way.
In 2011, Paletas was born in Tel Aviv and today, people all over the country can choose up to 25 different ways to cool down during the sweltering heat of a Mediterranean summer.
Old standbys like strawberry, pineapple, lemon and coconut are available, but what’s really special about these pops is how they are able to combine all the great natural flavors this land provides for their parched customers. Flavors such as sabras, date and banana, melon and nana (mint), mango and passion fruit, halva and malabi, are all produced here using produce from local growers on moshavim throughout the country.
As the demand increases here and abroad for more natural healthy food, Paletas is stepping up its health game by offering a plentiful and varied selection of vegan frozen treats as well as superfoods like spirulina, acai berries, chia seeds and cacao nibs. SHALVATEA At some point summer turns to winter and we all need to warm up and stay healthy for the fleeting winter months.
Good thing there’s a healthy and natural tea available here to soothe and strengthen us using the land’s natural healing properties.
The founder of the budding loose leaf tea company ShalvaTea is a Nefesh b’Nefesh dream come true. A Yale graduate and wildlife conservationist, David Ross discovered his passion for combining nature with creating unique and healthy teas for his Israeli brethren while on a trip here in 2011 after the devastating fires in the Carmel Forests.
While putting his hard-earned skills to work to figure out the causes and effects of these fires, he discovered “an abundance of native aromatic herbs, bringing them home to drink as relaxing teas after days in the field.”
However, when it came time to actually find similar herbs for sale in his local supermarket, he came up empty handed and from there, the idea for ShalvaTea began to “brew” (pardon the pun).
Established in 2014 shortly after Ross made aliya, ShalvaTea is the first tea company of its kind to offer its customers this type of tea experience.
“It’s 100% about the Land of Israel. I have been completely inspired by the diverse landscapes here, and this was the very basis of the inspiration for making herbal teas specifically from Israel. The abundance of wild, fragrant, edible and “teaible” plants is astounding,” Ross enthuses.
The company offers six flavors: Arava Calm, Carmel ImmuniTea, Ein Gedi Digestif, Cleansing Galil, Soothing Elah Valley, and Jerusalem Harmony. His product differs from the teas that one can find at the local organic marts here.
“ShalvaTea is trying to do something completely different. There is plenty of competition on the tea shelf, as anyone who frequents health-food stores can attest to. However, the majority of these teas are imported and those that are manufactured in Israel generally focus on traditional tea varieties from the Far East rather than exclusively herbal teas,” Ross says.
In addition to being available at health food and specialty stores, ShalvaTea is served in select cafes and restaurants, mainly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
As we begin another harvest season, it’s good to know there are so many options to nourish our bodies as well as satisfy our taste buds from the fertile land in which we live. L’haim.