The Prophet (SAW) said, " If my community had only known what there is in fenugreek they would have paid its weight in gold."
When considering the value of herbs, it is not their cost or exotic quality that matters as much as their versatility. Many herbs have been used historically as "cure-alls" or potent "tonic herbs." Among these herbs are black seed, fenugreek and aloe vera, three of the Prophet's (SAW) favorite herbs.
Bukhari reports that the Prophet (SAW) recommended that we "use black seed regularly because it has a cure for every disease except death." The magazine Food Chemistry found black seed to be high in protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, C and niacin as well as calcium, potassium and iron. These are the very nutrients that modern science has found that we most lack. We are encouraged to drink milk for calcium, to take supplements for EFA's (Essential Fatty Acids), and to consume niacin pills to lower our cholesterol; however, black seed can provide many of these same benefits. It also provides many of the same nutrients that the FDA recommends to help prevent disease and slow down the aging process.
Dr. Michael Tierra, author of Planetary Herbology, also found black seed to be high in the above nutrients. In addition, he found a remarkable number of sterols, especially beta-sitosterol, which is known to have anti-carcinogenic properties. The Journal of American Scientists reports that black seed has a number of useful properties such as antihistamine, antioxidant, antibiotic, antimycotic and broncho-dilating effects.
These findings possibly explain its long history as a lung tonic. Black seed has been used for almost 3,000 years to clear up blockages and phlegm in the lungs, asthma and asthma attacks, and stuffy or runny noses with colds. Allah's Messenger (SAW), in fact, used to soak 20 seeds wrapped in a linen cloth in water overnight, and place drops of this solution into his nostrils to relieve congestion and head colds the following morning (Al-Akili, Medicine of the Prophet).
Another famous use of black seed is for digestive problems - to "dry up" a soggy stomach, ease colic pain, expel intestinal worms, and remove wind and bloating in the intestines caused by eating wheat bread. The warmth of black seed also increases the flow of all fluids in the body including blood, urine, a nursing mother's milk and weak or halted menses.
Black seed ointment is also useful for all kinds of ailments where a topical application is indicated including warts, skin allergies, insect bites, baldness and gray hair. In fact, black seed has been classified by many modern scientists as a "tonic herb" or "cure all."
Dr. Peter Schleicher, an immunologist in Germany, has found that black seed contains the valuable unsaturated fatty acids, Linoleic (which stabilizes the cell membranes) and Gammalinolen. Also, the Prostaglandin in black seeds has the effect of inhibiting inflammation. This combination halts immune reactions and the start of many chronic illnesses like eczema, asthma and even cancer.
Fenugreek is another herb that was favored by the Prophet (SAW) and herbalists for thousands of years. Qasim bin Abdur-Rahman narrated that the Prophet said, "Mix fenugreek in your medicines." It is also related in the collection of Hadith that the Prophet visited one of his blessed companions, Sa'ad bin Abi Waqqass, who had contracted an illness during his stay in Mecca, and then requested that a physician examine him. After a diagnosis was made, the Prophet (SAW) said, "He will be fine. Give him the soup of a concoction of dates and fenugreek."
Fenugreek seeds have been found by laboratory tests to be very high in a number of nutrients, most notably fixed oils, which are comparable to the beneficial cod liver oil and other therapeutic oils that contain high amounts of vitamin A and choline. For this reason, fenugreek is often used to lower blood cholesterol and provide strength to the body systems, particularly the heart, lungs and digestive system. These same ingredients oxidize to produce the distinctive smell one acquires when drinking fenugreek tea.
The trigonelline in the seeds has been proven to have a hypoglycemic effect on rats, and has long been a favorite for anyone suffering from hypoglycemia and diabetes as well as fatigue. Fenugreek also contains saponins and sapogenins, which are materials essential for the synthesis of steroid hormones and related drugs, giving it the same potential as wild yam has recently become popular for - as a natural estrogen replacement therapy. For this same reason, fenugreek has been used historically for a multitude of female complaints - from halting painful menses to promoting lactation in new mothers.
Fenugreek is also high in minerals and proteins, making it a valuable skin conditioner when the seeds are soaked and applied to the skin. The proteins in fenugreek are also high in lysine, tryptophan, fats, phosphorus and iron. For this reason, fenugreek is often used to combat anemia. The seeds also have a unique ability to bulk up when added to liquid so the tea is often drank unstrained as a remedy against constipation, urine retention and candida albicanas.
Aloe vera is another very useful and favorite herb of the Prophet (SAW). Qays bin Rafi al-Qatsi narrates that God's messenger (SAW) said, "Aloes and watercress are a sure cure for illness." In fact, in some areas of the world such as South America, aloe vera is still used as an "all-purpose" cure. In some homes, it is the ONLY herb used - for all illnesses.
One of its unique qualities is that you do not have to cook or prepare it for internal or external applications, because it comes from the leaves as a ready-made gel that can be mixed with water and consumed OR applied directly to the skin from the cut leaves. In this sense, aloe vera is one of the most useful plants to have around the house. Its only drawbacks are that it is usually too strong for children, or pregnant or nursing women to take internally, and the taste is quite offensive. In some cases, people have had skin reactions to the plant as well, indicating that although it is useful, it should be used with caution.
Aloe vera is most famous in the Western world for its external uses, particularly in treating kitchen burns, acne and wounds from injuries or surgery. In fact, documented cases of radiation burn victims in Japan showed that aloe healed the burns more rapidly than any other method. The mucilage in aloe, which contains mucopolysaccharides, is largely responsible for aloe's healing action both on burns and wounds. In fact, these polysaccharides show similar action as hyaluronic acid in lab tests. Aloe works most effectively when it is taken directly from the growing plant as it is sterile and will not contaminate a burn or wound with bacteria.
Aloe also contains varying amounts of anthraquinone glucosides, which have bitter gripping cathartic principles. This explains its long history of internal uses as a colon cleanser and detoxification herb. It has also been used to open obstructions in internal organs, particularly the liver. In fact, aloe's mucilage provides a unique soothing effect to the digestive system along with a cleansing effect from the polysaccharides.
We are wise to use these herbs that Allah has provided, remembering that, "For every malady Allah created, He also created its cure (and he who) acquires such knowledge shall benefit from it and one who ignores it will forgo such benefit" (Sahih Bukhari).
Allah has provided us with not only many helpful exotic herbs, but also with a number of common cures that we can find in our kitchen cupboards. Ginger, a popular flavoring for most eastern dishes; thyme, a popular ingredient in pizza and spaghetti sauces; as well as basil, the main ingredient in the popular pesto of Italy, have all been used for centuries for a great number of illnesses.
The Qur’an (76:17) mentions ginger as one of the drinks of Jennah: “And in it, their drink is mixed with ginger.” In fact, the modern name, “ginger,” comes from the Arabic root, “zindshebil,” and its wide range of properties certainly qualifies it for the rank of “heavenly herbs.”
A study in the medical journal, The Lancet, showed that two gelatin capsules of ginger are more effective than 100mg of Dramamine, an over-the-counter motion sickness remedy. This is probably because the volatile oils in ginger, oleoresins and proteolytic enzymes, are stimulants that trigger the production of digestive fluids and ease stomach problems such as queasiness and improper digestion. In fact, since ginger was first recorded in history books in 400 B.C., it has been employed against all kinds of nausea experienced while traveling and while pregnant, as well as a digestive aid after dining.
Modern science has also discovered that ginger has hypo-cholesterolemic properties useful for reducing both serum cholesterol and cholesterol stored in the liver. This explains another folk usage of ginger as a blood purifier and a detoxification herb. Its volatile oils have highly stimulating properties and thus aid in circulation, delayed menses, circulation problems and even rheumatism. The phenolic oleoresins in ginger bark are highly anti-micorbial, making them a popular folk remedy for colds, flu and coughs.
Over the centuries, people have found they can benefit from ginger’s warming properties by taking a bath with a cup or two of the tea added to it. This is a popular remedy for soothing arthritis and fibromyalgia pain as well as pain related to bruised or pulled muscles. The fresh juice of ginger has been shown to reduce serum glucose levels in test animals; therefore, it may have use as a hypoglycemic agent for humans some day.
For now, the most popular way to take ginger is as a decoction. A decoction is made by simmering eight ounces of water per one ounce of an herb for twenty minutes. Then, the tea is strained and drank. Another popular way to use ginger is to make ginger syrup, which can then be used to make tea or “ginger ale,” by simmering two cups of fresh sliced and unpeeled ginger root in water for half an hour. The ginger is then strained out, an equal amount of honey is added, and the syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Thyme also has a long history of healing. Ibn al-Juzi transmitted the following Hadith: “They fumigated their houses with thyme and frankincense.” Although this refers to an external use for thyme, it adequately sums its antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral abilities.
Thyme is used in commercial preparations of many feminine hygiene douches, Vicks Vapo-rub, Listerine mouthwash, eardrops and anti-fungal creams. The antiseptic abilities found in the volatile phenolic compounds, thymol and carvacrol, in thyme make it ideal in combating bad breath, gum disease, gastric problems caused by viruses or bacteria, eczema, burns, ringworm, psoriasis, parasitic infections, fever, sore throats, and body odor. It can even be used as an insect repellent by putting a tea infusion in a bottle and spraying it on the skin or by hanging the dried leaves in an area.
However, although thyme is a strong soldier in the battle against viruses and bacteria, it can also act as a gentle nurse in relieving pain and relaxing an ill person. Its thymol, in this capacity, is effective against headaches, menstrual pain, abdominal cramps and stomachaches. However, thyme should not be used by pregnant women or by children as it can act as a uterine stimulant and is toxic in high doses.
Sweet Basil, also known as myrtle, holds a special place in the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) too, and has a long healing tradition. Ibn Abbas narrates that, “When the Prophet Nuh (AS) disembarked from the ark, the first plant that he planted was myrtle.” He also narrated that, according to a Hadith related by Abu Nu’aim, “Adam departed from the garden with three things: myrtle, which is the queen of all sweet smelling shrubs in the world; compressed dates, which are queen of all the dates in the world; and stalk of corn, which is queen of all the food in the world.”
Most likely, basil is referred to as a queen because it combats many of man’s ailments. It is a warming herb, thus working on all problems related to circulation. It also contains estragol, lineol and camphor, which act as lung and stomach tonics. Camphor is a powerful pain reliever so basil is often used for headaches, insect bites and other painful ailments. Since it can stimulate the adrenal cortex, it is often used in anti-depressant formulas.
Basil also contains antibacterial compounds, which make it useful for a variety of ailments such as colds, flu and stomach problems. When combined with cloves, it has been found to leech the body of heavy metal pollutants – probably one reason it is considered among the superior detoxifying and tonic herbs.
According to Sahih Bukhari, Allah has certainly sent us a “cure for every disease except death” and, as a bonus, we do not have to go any further than our kitchens to find many of these “cures.”
As Ramadan approaches, we inevitably think about all of the special meals that we will eat during this holy month. After a day of fasting and worship, the Muslim or Muslimah’s reward is not only the sense of peace that he or she has gained, but also the special iftar that waits.
In many areas of the world such as the Middle East, India, and African countries, iftar meals are filled with traditional foods that can be traced to the time of the prophet (SAW). In other countries, the food may take on the flavor of the country one is in, such as a pizza iftar in America or a taco iftar in Mexico.
However, there are traditional gifts from nature that we should remember wherever we live, gifts that were used by Prophet Mohammed (SAW) in his life, and gifts that assist the fasting Muslim during Ramadan. Among these bounties are the hibiscus flower, dates, rosewater essence, and miswak.
In the Middle East and Africa, hibiscus is readily served to guests, especially during Ramadan. However, for so many Ramadan traditions like the kunafa (a Ramadan sweet) and the musaharati (the man who wakes people for suhur), few look beyond the tradition for its benefit.
Although the sweet richness of kunafa can claim to nourish the spirit of the believer, the hibiscus flower can lay claim to many physical benefits for the fasting body. Hibiscus is, first of all, a pleasant tasting drink with astringent and, thus, thirst-quenching properties that may it quite useful when consumed during Ramadan. Secondly, a cup of hibiscus tea is 17% citric acid, and contains half as much vitamin C as an orange so it helps to strengthen the immune system. Hibiscus also has similar uses as cranberry juice in treating urinary tract infections, and is also useful for the heart and blood flow. Other properties in the herb help maintain the blood sugar balance in the body, another challenge one must overcome during fasting.
The traditional way to prepare hibiscus is to make a cold infusion. Take a quarter-cup of the herb and soak it in a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, strain out the hibiscus flowers and add honey to taste. Many people use sugar to sweeten their hibiscus; however, sugar leeches vitamins B and C from the body, can encourage urinary tract infections and counteracts most of the other benefits of the hibiscus as well. The best choice of sweeteners is to use about a teaspoon or more of the herb stevia, a green leafy herb from Paraguay that is sweet and lacks calories much like Nutra-sweet, but with none of the synthetic dangers. Stevia also has blood-sugar balancing properties and, thus, is the safest herb for diabetics.
Dates are another traditional item to ingest during the iftar. Muslims around the world, following the example of the Prophet (SAW), usually break their fast with dates. The reason that they are so beneficial is that their natural sugar travels quickly to the liver, and is converted more quickly than any other nutrient into energy that the fasting body soaks up like a sponge. This is the healthiest way of breaking the fast as it eases the body into digesting. Dates contain protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and natural sodium. They also contain a high amount of dietary fiber, which makes them a good digestive aid. Dates are also said to protect the stomach and the intestines from parasites and bacterial infections, so they are an especially good beginning to a meal when traveling or eating at a restaurant.
After the evening meal is finished, Muslims often go straight to make the Tarawih prayers, to which they often like to wear a pure essence of some sort. Perfume is a food for the soul and the spirit, much like dates and hibiscus are foods for the body. During Ramadan, Muslims need many foods to keep them strong in their religious duties. In one of the best known Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), he was quoted as saying, "There are three things in your world that are made to attract my affection: women, perfume, and then my ultimate fondness is securely fixed on prayers."
Rose essence or rosewater is one of the most popular essences for men and women to wear during this time. Besides the fact that it is one of the most heavenly scents, rose essence has a number of aromatherapy benefits as well. Valerie Worwood, in her book The Complete Book of Aromatherapy, notes that rose essence is a powerful anti-depressant, is uplifting, aids in digestion, and soothes frayed nerves during the stressful days of fasting. These benefits can all be enjoyed just by sprinkling some of the water or essence on your body, adding a few drops to your bathwater, or burning the scent in an incense burner in your home.
Rosewater is also the preferred soak for miswak which, taken from the branches of a miswak tree, is an answer to every Muslim who has asked, "Is it okay to brush my teeth while fasting?"
This question often arises in modern times because of western tooth brushing methods that require a mouthful of water and often involve delicious tasting toothpaste. Miswak, on the other hand, is simply soaked until the brushing end is soft, and then gently stroked over the teeth. Imam Al-Bukhari narrated that Abdullah bin Omar brushed his teeth with a miswak morning and evening while fasting.
A fasting person, in fact, is in more need of tooth brushing than the non-fasting person since vapors from the empty stomach tend to bind to the teeth and gums. Miswak helps to keep the breath fresh and pure. Among the other benefits of using miswak are that it clears the brain, generates a sense of well-being, remedies the stomach for the next meal, embraces the prophetic tradition, adds to ones merit, pleases Allah, and delights the angels.
During this Ramadan, remember the gifts of nature for they are really gifts from Allah to us to ease us through our fasts. The verse Al-Asharh (Surah 94:5) that we recite during Tarawih prayers says, " So, verily with every difficulty there is relief."