A pleasant Saturday. I set up one of the two irrigation computers for the garden; I don't think we'll be getting much more rain this season. Then I started to repair a bit of water damage in the ceiling, and fixed three of our wobbly kitchen chairs. For want of anything more interesting to write about, here's some information I've been gathering on a thorny plant that grows around here:
Sarcopoterium spinosum (Spiny Burnet)
The open country around here, if it isn't cultivated or wooded, usually reverts to a low chaparalle dominated by Sarcopoterium spinosum; in Hebrew סירה קוצנית, in Arabic نتش بلان .
Flowersofisrael.com has this to say about it:
Sapoterium spinosum, Arabic ballan, which covers countless acres of bare hillside, was used all over Israel for ovens (Ecclesiastes 7:6) and lime-kilns. Before kindling one of these latter the fellahin gather enormous piles of this plant-carried on their heads in masses much larger than the bearers-around the kiln mouth.
Lytton John Musselman, in his book "Plants of the Bible and the Quran", suggests Sarcopoterium spinosum to be the plant used for the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head. Sarcopoterium spinosum has thorns up to 4 inches long. It is a flexible plant that would be easy to weave into a crown.
Besides the uses mentioned above, there are many others. It was used for brooms, for filtering water, in the construction of domes and vaults and, paradoxically, the spiny plant can be used in mattresses (due to its springy quality).
In local folk medicine, "the plant is very popular among healers and the roots are used for the treatment of diabetes (major medicinal use!), toothaches, digestive problems, inflammation, and pain." (source)
One of the most quoted medicinal indications is the use of its root bark as a popular cure against diabetes and for dissolving kidney stones. Traditionally it is used as a tranquilizer and a potion prepared from its leaves is said to dispel fears. Green leaves, salted and spiced and soaked in saliva are used to cure eye complaints, and also as a lucky charm. Five pentacyclic triterpenoids were identified in Sarcopoterium spinosum, Tormentic acid is suggested to be the major constituent extract, and to mediate its anti-proliferative activity on several cancer cell lines.
The plant is a distant member of the rose family - in this highly magnified image, a certain resemblance can be seen:
It flowers from February to April, and is beginning to flower now. In the summer, the plant turns brown and looks almost dead.
Below are some photos I have taken during a walk on the adjacent hilltop. Three or four years ago, the slope of this hill was engulfed by fire: Everything was burned black. But the Sarcopoterium quickly rejuvinated; you would never know there'd been a fire there now. If left to itself, nature might eventually replace the Sarcopoterium with something else; perhaps a low cover of oak and terebinth, as elsewhere in the country; but I haven't seen that happen anywhere in our immediate vicinity.
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