(photo credit: Talia Frenkel)
They call him the "etrog medicine man." But Uzi Eli says his etrog-based juices, tonics, pastes, and creams are more than just medicine; they are a way of life.
"The knowledge of how to make this medicine was passed down through my family by word of mouth for hundreds of years," says Eli, who came to Israel from Yemen at the age of seven. "The Yemenite etrog is special, different from all other etrogim, and has a long history of medicinal uses in the Middle East."
In the heart of Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, Eli's stall attracts hundreds of loyal customers (he calls them patients) from all over the country each day. It stands out amid the bustling vendors with their organized presentation of produce, Eli's hodgepodge medley of garlic bulbs and herbs dangle above a lineup of his juices, each presented with an explanation.
"I come here every day for the etrog juice," says Hannah Yaminit, a Jerusalem native. "I also swear by his 'skin magic' spray, I don't even have to wear makeup anymore."
The spray is one of Eli's best sellers. Made from the peel of the Yemenite etrog, he swears that it keeps skin clear and wrinkle-free. He may be the best advertisement for the spray: at 64-years-old, he looks decades younger.
"In my Yemenite roots, the secret behind etrog medicine was kept in the family," says Eli. "But the key is the care, the love, we put into it."
All Eli's three children, a son and two daughters, work with him in the stall. He says he taught each one of them only a part of the secret recipe of the etrog tonic to ensure that they continue to work together in the family business.
In the weeks before the holiday, his stall is busier than ever. A constant stream of people purchasing whole etrogim for their succot have their curiosity piqued by his other wares and many walk away with a tonic or cream, specially tailored to their needs. Although they seem hesitant over the lack of medical evidence behind the remedies, many seem willing to give them a try.
Among his wares are a few perennial favorites. His complete "start-a-family" line includes a love serum to help couples conceive, a tonic to be taken during pregnancy to combat nausea and ensure a strong, "sweet smelling" child, and a juice that stimulates lactation after a woman gives birth. All are made from some variation of etrog.
There is evidence that in the Middle Ages the etrog, or as it is called in English, citron, was used as a remedy for seasickness, pulmonary troubles, intestinal ailments and other disorders, according to Fruits in Warm Climates by J. Morton.
Today, it is still used in natural healing practices worldwide. In India, the peel is eaten to cure dysentery and halitosis, while the distilled juice is given as a sedative.
In China, the peel is made into a tonic and used as a stimulant and expectorant. In West Tropical Africa, the etrog is used only as a medicine, most often against rheumatism. In Panama, etrogim are ground up and combined with other ingredients and given as an antidote for poison.
Eli prays over each batch of juice he brews. He believes these prayers impart a positive energy that is crucial to the effectiveness of the juice.
"I don't just sell these products, I believe in them, " Eli says. "My wife and my children all use etrog regularly. It is the key to a healthy life." n