Medicinal Plants of Sinai

Contrary to expectations, the desert is covered with plants, trees and bushes that have sprouted from the rare rainfall. The flora has adapted to the dry conditions to survive, sometimes going for several years without water. For this reason the plants tend to have potent properties from the excretion they produce because of the sun’s powerful energy. The medicinal value of these plants is well known to the Bedouin who have been using these plants for hundreds of years, although in recent years the knowledge is getting lost as pharmacies and modern medicine is taking over even in the desert.

The number of varieties of plants found in Sinai is surprisingly high given the dryness of its desert. They are counted in their thousands with areas like St Katherine’s having over 900 endemic plants. There are many books that cover this subject in a much more proffessional way than this short article which is based entirely on my personal experience. I would like to introduce a few of the most interesting plants, mainly ones that have medicinal properties.

Baatharaan

This bush has green/blue coloured leaves that grow off thin twigs. Its strong good smell is misleading as it actually tastes extremely bitter. This bitterness is probably what gives it its effective healing effect for digestive or stomach upsets. The leaves can be boiled and drank like tea, but due to the unpleasant taste, I recommend to simply swallow a pinch with a glass of water. I have never seen baatharaan fail in its job to cure a stomach upset. The Bedouin say that if you take a lot if it regularly it would take care of even the most serious bacterias or viruses affecting the digestive system.

Other know uses appart from cleansing are to tackle certain skin disorders and breathing it in for clearing the nose (some recommend to sleep on a pillow filled with baatharaan to clear the sinuses.

Baatharaan

N’heyda

This is the desert’s version of camomille, with yellow flowers and sticky little green leaves on thin twigs.  A very pleasantly strong smelling and tasting plant with medicinal properties. N’heyda is good for colds in general and as a calming drink. It is also used to clean the kidneys and is know to eliminate kindey stones. The Bedouin also add this plant to their tea, a tasty and special combination.

N’heyda

N’heyda

Eilejaan

This plant means ‘cures’ in Bedouin. It produces long stems that are boiled slightly and produce a light greenish drink. The Bedouin usually place the stems on a rock and crush them with repetitive blows with a stone in order to obtain the most out of it before using it. Eilejaan is basically good for blood circulation and therefore numerous things such as headaches- stiff neck- muscular tension- digestion- healing bruises and cuts- swelling- blood clots- poor blood circulation and anything related to cleaning or regulating blood flow.

Eilejaan

Eilejaan

Nigd

This a rarer plant and not so well known. It has an incredibly good smell (a bit like peach) but it is inedible. It dries out quite quickly and is mainly in all its splendour after rainfall. Nigd has a very particular use, it is an eye cleanser. I have used it once myself, and it is very effective. I did well to listen to advice and dilute if with a lot of water after boiling it. It basically made my eye produce tears for about 10 minutes (without any emotion ivolved). This was slightly stinging, however not aggravating.

Nigd

Ghagha

An even rarer plant, well know in some areas for its anti-venemous properties. There are many stories of Bedouin getting bitten or stung by either spiders, scorpions or snakes, and surviving thanks to ghagha. The plant is boiled and then drank as well as administered on the area of the bite/sting. It apparentely sucks the poison out of the body. Also know to accelerate the healing of cuts. In this case the plants is steamed over the affected area.

Ghagha

Siyaala

This Acacia tree is probably the emblem of Sinai, which is why we chose to have it on our logo. This a favourite food for camels that can actually chew through its tough thorns. It also produces a very light, ‘fluffy’ yellow flower that falls easily to the ground and is loved by all desert herbivourous animals. It is used to tan leather and its medicinal properties are also numerous and cover such ailments as stomach upsets and colds. It also produces shade at all times of the days making it ideal for resting under in the hot summers. Wadi Saal, Wadi al Ogda, Wadi Mitoura, Wadi Zaghra, Wadi Gnei are all full of beautiful acacia, Siyaala trees.

Siyaala – Sinai Acacia

More updates and photos with new plants as well to come…

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Categories: Flora and fauna | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Medicinal Plants of Sinai

  1. hi- with regard to the artemisias (wormwoods)- baytharan (A herba alba) and shih (A judaica) look very much alike. baytharan has white flowers and shih has yellow ones. baytharan is usually found in higher elevations and may be found growing alone, whereas shih mostly grows in great swathes on flat land. it’s usually shih if it’s along the roadside. if the bush isn’t flowering, check around the base and you may find some fallen flowers. when you pinch some leaves off and crumble them in your hand and roll them into a little ball, the baytharan is a darker green and holds together better, a bit sticky and springy. and like you say, it will kill a stomach ache in seconds. 😀 it is bitter bitter bitter– a sign of a stomach tonic. shih is less so, it has some of the same properties but it is much weaker, more perfumed than resinous. it is used by menopausal women in their morning tea, generally a tonic herb. neither of these wormwoods are the one they make absinthe from, baytharan does contain the same phytochemicals but in lesser concentrations. it is said to produce lucid dreaming when used regularly- drunk, burned, slept on- one of the herbs witches use to fly. 😀 it is possible to make a concentrated psychoactive substance- tincture or tar- from baytharan. (see erowid files), which when drank or smoked gives a ‘doll house’ effect. lol- probably more like bull in a china shop effect! shih is excellent to stuff into wherever you store clothing/bedding, it keeps insects and mice away and keeps your things smelling fresh, not stale, for years if need be. i never thought of putting some in the kitchen cupboards, but it might be a good idea. as they are wormwoods… yes, they do kill intestinal worm larvae and adults, baytharan being the stronger… just googling that and find that freshly ground cloves will kill the eggs.

    • Thanks Gina for the extra info. The Sheeh that we get in Sinai is actually found in higher altitudes than the baatharaan though. For example near “Al Elwe” cross to “faraanja” and ‘zaranig’ of el gunna mountain where Bedouin often move to after rainfall because of its abundant vegetation. Sheeh is found in those areas, whereas Baatharaan is found already in Al Arada area and there is even a plant in Dahab that I cam across. Sheeh is also so tasty in tea and good for colds. Send more comments anytime please…

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