Do you know the etrog man?

Uzi-Eli Hezi promises the citron can help solve many health problems.He even has the Ramabam in his corner.

311_etrog juice (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_etrog juice
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
According to the Rambam (Maimonides), the etrog can cure more than 70 medical ailments. Have an eye irritation? Hard of hearing? Stuttering? A few drops of etrog juice on the offending body part will cure it all, explains Uzi-Eli Hezi, the “etrog man” at the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk.
Etrog juice hasn't been clinically tested, but is used as a home remedy for centuries. Etrogim – citrons in English – can also cure morning sickness, work as an antidote to snake or scorpion bites, lower blood pressure, cure infertility, help heal burns, and reduce blood pressure, among other medical miracles - all according to Hezi.
RELATED:Etrog recipes from Uzi-Eli HeziHezi’s etrog health stand is tucked in the new “tourist corner” of Mahaneh Yehuda’s rapidly gentrifying vegetable market. But Hezi has been there for 10 years and the recipes he uses for the etrogim are even older. He’s spent the past decade pouring over the Rambam’s 800- year-old medical texts to understand how the great sage used the etrog fruit’s healing properties.
Despite no formal training in chemistry, he’s developed etrog soaps, creams, sprays, and health juice blends. All of his products use his own etrogim that he grows on his farm in Eshtaol, 25 kilometers west of Jerusalem.
Hezi uses a special variety of Yemenite etrogim, which are much bigger than the small, yellow, wrinkled etrog typically used on Succot. With a green outer skin, most of the etrog is made up of spongy white rind, or pith. Yemenite etrogim have very little juice.
“I had so many etrogim I didn’t know what to do with them,” said Hezi, explaining why he turned to creating etrog cosmetics and food, including his popular etrog hilbeh (Yemenite fenugreek dip).
Succot comes only once a year, and Hezi laments that etrogim are in the spotlight for only seven days.
“They use etrogim for a mitzva, but the farmers work so hard to raise it, and it’s not used for anything afterwards,” he said. “You can make more foods and more jams from etrogim.”
The etrog has a moderate amount of potassium and fiber, and is very high in vitamin C, like all citrus fruits. In addition to warding off the common cold, vitamin C increases iron absorption and helps produce proteins necessary for strong bones, cartilage, muscles, and blood vessels.
While no medical research substantially confirms the healing properties of the etrog, a strong dose of vitamin C is widely believed to reduce asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and cataracts, among many other medical ailments.
“The etrogim keep me healthy and happy,” said Hezi. “I haven’t seen a doctor in 15 years. I pay for health insurance for nothing!” Indeed, he’s got a loyal following of people who feel the same way. Hezi sees more than 250 customers a day at his stall, though he sometimes refers to them as patients. He has hundreds of stories of helping infertile women give birth, lifting chronic depression, and healing ailments large and small through his line of etrog products.
“I can see what’s inside a man and give him a medicine that’s just what he needs,” Hezi explained.
Hezi juggles running the stall and blending the juices, while simultaneously listening attentively to the requests and questions of his customers.
He’s part therapist, part healer, part spiritual adviser, and part etrog connoisseur.
The stall is a family affair – everyone who works there is family, including all three of his children.
Uzi-Eli Hezi was born in Yemen in 1942, and arrived in Israel as part of the Operation Magic Carpet airlift of Yemeni Jews to Israel in 1950.
His mother was an herbalist and his father was a spiritual healer.
“Here, I can unite what they taught me,” Hezi explained. “I bless the formula, I put the message in the merchandise.”
While he spends many waking hours researching the etrog in the Rambam’s texts, most of the actual formulas for his cosmetics come to him in dreams, he says.
Etrog farming was a hobby for the former 20-year employee of the Foreign Service, who used to escort visiting diplomats around Israel.
Hezi spent his 20s traveling around the world, working in greenhouses in 12 different countries. In America and Canada, he learned about organic farming practices.
Eighteen years ago, he dedicated himself to farming fulltime, taking over the 10-acre etrog orchard, part of which was planted by his mother when they arrived in Israel.
Hezi takes joy in bringing the knowledge of Judaism’s most revered physician to help heal people today, with his own special twist.
“Because of my profession, I use [the Rambam’s] knowledge, but I create my life and my products according to what I feel spiritually,” he explained.
“I have their knowledge and I apply it to my talents… I read what they have to say, and then I create a new formula that only I can make.”