Bethany: a course to rediscover essential oils and perfumes of the local tradition
“Do you use medicinal plants in everyday life? Which plants do you know? Would you know how to recognize them? ”With these questions Andrea Primavera, consultant for development of agronomic techniques for the production of medicinal plants and herbs, began his lecture on officinal plants to the women of the female associations of Bethany Shouruq Society for Women and Al Hana.
The relationship between the women of Bethany and the aromatic and officinal plants is more than a thousand years old: in the Gospel of John it is said that Mary, one of Lazarus‘ sisters, anointed, to worship him, the feet of Christ with the precious perfume of nard, a oil with a very high cost also for the time. In fact, from the rhizome of the nard, crushed and distilled, an intensely aromatic and very dense amber essential oil was used in ancient times, used as a perfume. Today, nard oil is little used, but in the local tradition there is still some knowledge about the use of essential oils for personal care, in cosmetic and medicinal use.
As part of the “Betania Solidale” with the contribution of the AICS Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development, Association pro Terra Sancta and the Mosaic Center Jericho, thanks to Andrea’s specific knowledge, work alongside and support local female associations that try to keep alive the tradition of using natural essential oils in the production of soaps and body creams.
In his decades of experience as a consultant for individuals and non-governmental organizations, Andrea has traveled throughout Europe and in many countries of the world including Albania, Morocco, Ghana, lecturing on the development of agronomic techniques for the production of medicinal plants, mechanization, harvesting and post-harvest of herbs. His seminars are not only intended to show the multiple uses of herbs but, through practical workshops, to teach the best way to exploit a resource that grows naturally in nature or that can be easily cultivated in small gardens and balconies at home. Behind the simple gesture of cultivating a plant in one’s garden, in reality, new scenarios are opening up for a population oppressed by poverty and difficult living conditions which, due to strong urbanization, make it impossible to use ancient techniques and traditions. “With simple measures such as rainwater recovery in the winter months and an organic composting system for the production of natural fertilizer – Andrea explains – you can create a small “home-made” vegetable garden, a form of urban agriculture for the production of herbs and medicinal plants from which to obtain (through drying processes, distillation, extraction) essential oils, perfumes, herbal teas and much more “.
“Andrea showed us how it is possible to mix different essential oils together to create a perfume: I had never done anything like this” tells us Afnan, a young student of inorganic chemistry at the Al-Quds University who recently joined the Shouruq association. “Even if making perfumes isn’t exactly my field of study, I enjoy experimenting with new things, putting my chemistry knowledge into practice. I met Shouruq through a friend and I immediately decided to join this group of women in order to create something together. For us Palestinian girls there are not many possibilities to find work in our field, this is a great possibility for me ”.
According to Andrea, women play a fundamental role in the creation of these products. “Based on my experience in urban agriculture in communities where the family plays a central role, as in the case of Palestinian society, women play a key role in the success of the project.” Thanks to the women of Shouruq and those of Al Hana will remain in Bethany the tradition of oils present from the times of Martha and Mary.