What do the wormwood, laughing dove, almond tree and jackal have in common?
For one thing, they are mentioned in the Bible.
Secondly, they are an integrated part of our Jerusalem neighborhood.
This article describes Wormwood.
It’s 6 a.m.
Time to get up.
I open the curtains and look out; perhaps the jackal I heard howling not so long before, is still around.
But no, nothing to be seen but “Artemisia”.
Standing before the open window, I inhale deeply.
Last night’s rainfall enhances the aromatic smell of the “la’anah”, “Artemisia” (Wormwood) plants that spread and sprawl abundantly in the undeveloped area around our house.
I never realized this “weed” had such an interesting history.
The “Artemisia Judaica” is one of the 400 species of the daisy family, with a perennial root that is deeply buried in the rocky, sandy soil.
In winter, the stems are black and withered, but the moment the weather turns mild, green shoots begin to sprout.
Growing tall they bloom with small yellow, star-like flowers from July to October.
Bees and other insects feast on their nectar, not troubled by the very bitter leaves and flowers.
This unattractive plant has lots of uses though.
In ancient times, people put dried wormwood leaves between furs and clothing to repel fleas and moths.
The Chinese used wormwood as anti-malaria therapy.
Hippocrates prescribed it for jaundice, rheumatism, anemia and menstrual pains.
For over 3500 years it was used to expel intestinal worms.
Nowadays, the French use what we know as “tarragon” in their cooking.
Both Vermouth and the liqueur Absinthe are made from wormwood.
The Greek word for wormwood is apsinthion, meaning undrinkable, but this didn’t deter people like van Gogh, Picasso, and Ernest Hemmingway from becoming absinthe addicts.
It depresses the central nervous system and can cause mind-altering changes, even lead to psychosis.
I think Jesus knew this when he hung on the cross and the Roman soldier offered Him a drink. The moment He tasted the bitterness, He refused to drink it.
Middle Eastern people still mix the bitter herbs with mint-flavored tea.
On the Cairo market Bedouins sell dried wormwood leaves, either to be used as an antiseptic inside the nostrils, but also as a decongestant or a cough drink.
Biblical wormwood however is always associated with evil and suffering.
The Lord God warns, “So that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that
there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood;” Deuteronomy 29:18 NKJV.
In Lamentations we read, “He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. Remember my affliction and roaming, The wormwood and the gall.” Lamentations 3:15,19 NKJV.
In the natural world, the roots and leaves of these sturdy “weeds” exude a substance that restricts the growth of many neighboring plants.
Likewise, if we let bitterness (for whatever reason) take its course, it will restrict our spiritual growth, and our bitter spirits will “poison” those around us.
But even wormwood has a positive side.
Its presence builds up components in the soil, thereby creating a future habitat for plants which otherwise would not have been able to thrive in the barren ground.
In order to prepare the “ground” for spiritual growth, God allows “bitter” things to happen in our lives.
Lessons we’ve learned, we may pass on to others – so they may be encouraged to hold on.
And this shrub - so tainted - serves as a generous food-bank for the larvae of a great variety of butterflies, moths and other insects.
I look at these abundant growing “weeds” with different eyes now and realize that in God’s creation, nothing is wasted.
Even the bitter, difficult things that happen in our lives, God can use for His glory. If we let him.
Either we become bitter, or better.
The choice is ours.
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