Book Review of Ashkenazi Herbalism by Deatra Cohen and Adam Siegel

From time to time I will write book reviews for this blog, especially books that tie in with happiness, joy, emotions, and self-care. A dear friend of mine approached me about doing a review for Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews and I gladly obliged.

“Herbalism, or herbal medicine, seems a simple enough concept,” the preface begins. What seems to be a simple concept at the surface turns out to be complex and we quickly learn of the rich stories and histories of different communities that have relied on herbal medicine for millennia. Notably, many communities of the Pale Settlement in Eastern Europe relied on Ashkenazi herbalists and doctors, just as many Ashkenazi Jews of the Pale relied on other communities (specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine and Middle Eastern herbalists) as well. The different groups that lived in and traveled around the Pale Settlement had a symbiotic relationship.

During the Jewish Enlightenment, which was inspired by the European Enlightenment, age-old traditions began to fade away. Physicians with Western academic training along with health care reformers from the Jewish middle classes of Eastern Europe, attempted to reshape attitudes about health care. It’s important to note in this review that while there were doctors and hospitals in the years leading to World War I, the doctors still referred to Feldshers, Midwives, and other traditional doctors. The locals still saw and trusted these groups of practitioners because they used traditional remedies that they were familiar with.

By the end of Part I, as the reliance on modern hospitals and doctors grew, we are reminded of the importance of our connection to the natural world is for remembering our ancestors, for healing ourselves, and for the health of future generations. This leads us into Part II where the importance of plants and knowing the medicinal properties come into play, which leads us to Part III and 26 different herbs that are important in traditional medicine.

This is the part of Ashkenazi Herbalism where Cohen’s research experience as a librarian, artist and herbalist shines. This is also the part where Siegel’s translation experience shines and together they weave beautiful tales. Starting with aloe and ending with viola, there are translations for Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, German, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian, for each culture that would work with the plant. It was helpful to see, to get into the mind of the healer that would use one of these languages in their work. I also loved the stories and traditions that accompanied each plant.

Ashkenazi Herbalism was indeed detective work and all this research was beautifully written, and it wasn’t overly technical. This book could be read by novices and it did a wonderful job introducing herbalism. However, I feel like Part I could have been broken down into parts like the plants were. Part I was a long read and while it was interesting, it was dense when broken up with bolded sections. However, breaking down that part might not have made sense. It was wordy and possibly for a good reason.

In this day and age, herbalism and traditional medicine still has a place in our lives. We could see this during the Pandemic especially. While we still relied on doctors and we still need to rely on doctors, people also trust the ancient wisdom for when modern medicine can’t answer everything. Ashkenazi Herbalism is for those who are interested in the history of traditional medicine in Eastern Europe, how Jewish thought impacted their community and the communities around them. This book also makes the case for trusting this wisdom and maybe asking these questions of our ancestors.

I would give this book a rating of 4.5 out of 5. Cohen and Siegel did an amazing job writing and researching and I learned something as I read. Traditional medicine is definitely used for self-care and I had an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) beforehand, now I really have an interest. This book is recommended.

Thankful Thursday 13 May 2021

We’re almost half-way through May! Can you believe it? Eid al-Fitr was last night, Shavuot is on Sunday (lasting through Tuesday) and a lot of other exciting things are coming soon!

Mother’s Day has passed and while I didn’t make a post on Mother’s Day. I’m grateful for my sweet mum. She got her second COVID shot last Saturday, so I treated her to a Panera lunch on Sunday, we had kabobs for dinner, and celebrated more on Monday. She absolutely loves the hibiscus I bought her and she can’t wait until it’s warm enough to plant (we’ve been having a cold snap for the past two weeks – I’m not complaining).

On Sunday, I made this post on Facebook and I want to share it here as well because I’m thankful for all of these women:

Piggybacking off of Christine Aigner Dalton. Random Mother’s Day thoughts:

I’m thankful for these women in my life who have been role models over the years, and some who gave me a chance when no one else would.


Great Grandma

Aunt Kathy

Ms. Bev

Mrs. Darnell

Treiva Dungee

Darlene Laverty

Prof. Shevlin

Prof. Nollen

Prof. Verdamme

Prof. Capehart

Harlyce Grossman

Mary McCree

Mrs. Brown

Mrs. Davenport

Mrs. Collier

Other aunts, women in my congregation, and women I work with both at the library and my full-time job. And of course, Chris! 🙂 Thank you for all that you do and have done for me. I’m truly blessed.

I’m also thankful for my dad, my friends, and my Jewish groups. What are you thankful for today?

Travel Update

Well, I did some research on Grenada. I am a solo traveler and I have to travel to relatively safe places. Grenada is safe, although I am alert and keep my eye on everything.

One friend told me to check the travel advisories on the State Department’s website. I did and Grenada is marked at a 2: be on alert for COVID-19. I was curious about other countries and almost every other country was rated as a 4: DO NOT TRAVEL because of COVID-19. Even the Grenadines and other Caribbean Islands were a 4. Only Israel and Grenada were 2s.

So, I decided that I will wait. My passport is good until 2026 and I have time. I’ll plan something for when COVID-19 is a memory and I will use this time to my advantage: I want to pay off more debt. When I’m able to travel again, I’ll have more of a peace of mind.

I’m disappointed, but I can go to Brighton Beach. I love Brighton Beach and I can have just as much fun as I would have in Grenada. It’ll be a wonderful summer, even though it’ll still be different than normal.


I’m debating my summer vacation this year, especially since I will be fully vaccinated. While I am still being careful and won’t be doing much, I miss some traveling.

I was thinking about going to Brighton Beach/NYC for a few days, but then I realized that I’ve had my renewed Passport for 5 years and haven’t used it yet. Emily has been traveling around the Carribbean at a reduced rate since they’re trying to get some business back.

I was Googling places last night and Grenada was the first on the list. I decided to look at Air BNBs in Grenada, near St. George, and I found a house for $28/night. For three nights it would only cost me $96. There’s a kitchen and they have a garden. I could go food shopping and cook, I wouldn’t have to eat out, or I could do one night out for the experience.

Philadelphia is overpriced to fly out of and I would have to make a stop in Miami. $1200 round trip.If I fly out of JFK in New York, I can get a direct flight, round trip for $444. I might have to compare it to what I have originally planned in NYC or NJ.

I’m thinking this will definitely be cheaper than NJ. Air BNB rentals could go from $75-$100/night, then the transit, and eating. That trip usually costs me about $600. NYC is a bit cheaper, but probably not by much because of transit and eating.

I have a goal of paying off most debt by August. I am set to it, so maybe this could be a gift to myself when I pay off a card. My heart is calling for Grenada. I’ve never been there and it sounds like it would be a good experience and it doesn’t seem expensive at all.

Thankful Thursday 6 May 2021

Wow! May already!? 2021 is really flying by.

On Saturday I am reading the Haftarah blessing. Last Saturday, one of the congregants asked for volunteers and I volunteered. I added, “I’m new to this and I’ll need some help.” The congregant is the Gabbi, which is a leader when the Rabbi isn’t available, and he called me the next day. I’m reading the blessing, which is short.

The Gabbi called me this morning and had me recite it. I’m doing well and he’s impressed. We both can’t wait until Saturday. I’m really grateful that they are letting me read a little bit and they’ve been helpful. It’s nice to feel welcomed.

I’m also thankful for friends and family. What are you thankful for today?

Nan’s Birthday

Today Nan would have turned 98. I made GF strawberry shortcake cupcakes in her honour, as it was her birthday tradition.

Nan’s memory is a blessing; she taught me how to be me and I am grateful for that. I am grateful that we loved each other unconditionally and she accepted me for who I am. I know she would be proud of the person I am today.

Here’s a flashback from her birthday 10 years ago, when she turned 88. This was a post from Blogger’s blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Today was nan’s birthday. Mom was away, so we’ll be celebrating more on Saturday. However, I did get some photos of the floral cake her nephew sent her.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy belated birthday, Nan! What a lovely celebration tonight!

And here’s the entry from her last birthday with us, from 2012, her 89th birthday.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nan turned 89 yesterday. We took her to Legal Seafood to celebrate her birthday.

It’s a shame I didn’t write more back then, but it was the end of a busy semester.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dave joined us. They had just returned from Italy and bought an intricate crocheted pictured of Venice for her birthday. Nan always wanted to visit Italy and see some of her family, but didn’t get a chance to. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dave’s kindness surprised Nan. She was overjoyed. Nan was overjoyed we were all with her to celebrate her 89th birthday.

I love you and miss you. I know you are guarding me and holding a piece of gluten-free strawberry shortcake for me. I bet Miss Mimi, Olivia, and our Woos, and Squig are sitting right beside you as well. You’re also partying with Great Grandma, whose 111st birthday was yesterday.

Devil’s Den: Revisited (30 April 2021)

The last time I was at @devilsdenphilly was for the Puppy Bowl in February 2018. This was two months before I had to go gluten free and six months before the celiac diagnosis.

It felt so good going back and having a delicious GF meal on Friday, 30 April 2021. I first found Devil’s Den in May 2013. Over the years, it was a meeting place for Louis and I in June and July 2013, then again in 2014. Drinking sangria and talking about writing. Then in 2015-2018, just a great place to eat and make new friends.

Mazel Tov to new beginnings! ☺️

Thankful Thursday 29 April 2021

The last Thursday in April. Can you believe it?! This year truly is flying by…

…with that said, I have a lot to be grateful for on this last Thursday in April. I’m so thankful for Tribe12. I’m thankful that they’ve welcomed me and include me in events.

On Sunday evening, we gathered on Zoom for a pre-Oscars party, a red carpet event. Then when the Oscars started, we moved over to Discard. It was a fun evening. On Saturday evening, they’re having a Zoom campfire and tomorrow they’re giving me a goodie bag for Saturday evening. I’m grateful for this.

I love my book discussion group and it feels so great to converse not only with others my age, but some others that are converting as well. It makes me feel less alone and the book we are reading speaks to my soul.

I’m thankful for my synagogue. I’m still waiting for the Rabbi to get back to me, but April (and May) has been filled with Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Shivas. I was feeling depressed on Sunday, I have SAD, but I have summer SAD. When the days get longer and warmer, my mental health takes a nose dive. I’m more of a winter gal. I love shorter and colder days – I can do more, where in the summer I have to hibernate.

I’m also loved. I love myself; I have a Rabbi and religious community who loves me too. Saturday started the mental health nose dive and I decided to turn my camera off during the service. One of the congregants sent me a private message and asked if I was okay. I am loved. I also have the love of friends and family. That is enough. ❤

What are you thankful for today?

Look Great, Feel Great

Before COVID-19, I thought about signing up for Air BNB experiences and taking tourist photos for others in Philadelphia. Then the pandemic hit and I put those plans on hold.

As I was looking to plan a vacation, I took notice of all the experiences in NYC. I want to visit the New York beaches for a few days this year. Anyway, I decided to see what experiences Philadelphia had and the Look Great, Feel Great photo session looked fun. For $25, why not?

Matthew was great and I had a lot of fun. We gelled and the 45 minutes went quickly. My photos look great too. Here are a few: (Photo album)

Like I said, this was a fun photo shoot and after, Matthew walked me to the train. I was telling him about my plans to do something in Old City and he said, “you totally should! You have a professional camera and you’d get a lot of business.”


Thankful Thursday 22 April 2021

A Happy Earth Day, dear readers! May we keep the Earth green, from this day on!

I’ve made a decision earlier this week. I’m no longer sharing my political and ethical opinions on social media, especially the Happiness Box Project. I’m entitled to my opinion, just as you are entitled to yours, but I don’t have to share them. I don’t run a Political Box or Debate Box, but a project that focuses on well-being. I am sticking to that.

Why the sudden change? I was talking to a retired teacher friend and I confessed this to her:

Part of the reason why I’ve been mum about my feelings regarding celebrating criminals is because I don’t need a repeat of January 2019. Someone didn’t like what I said, so they tracked down my information and made a complaint to the library. Needless to say, I didn’t get that part-time promotion. That is why I get so mad, friend. No room for disagreements without people getting offended. My old friend was one of those types.

It was from Twitter, where I included no information except my blog link. I mentioned the library on a thankful Thursday post and someone contacted them. People are nuts today. I’m getting back to being a private person again. Honestly, yes, I created a page for my Happiness Box… but I don’t have to update it often. Blog will be kept to certain things.

When I was younger, I was told, “have an online presence! Post! Post! Post! The more you have a presence and the more you post, the more job opportunities!” Ugh, no!

I’m an introvert and I felt so ashamed of it when I was younger because people told me I’d never get a job as an introvert or as a non-driver. I internalized it and there was no reason to. Most of us should keep most things private or among close friends. If anything, all that I used to share probably kept me from more jobs than being introverted. That probably explains my irritability too. No more…

Anyway, on with the gratitude! I’m thankful for my faith community, family, and friends.