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045, Deatra Cohen and Adam Siegel: Ashkenazi Herbalism

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75% of the world’s human population relies on traditional healing practices, most of which is herbal medicine. Herbs and other plants have shaped human culture and traditions since the beginning of time. The Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe’s Pale of Settlement have a well documented history dating back to the Middle Ages, but until now, accounts of their herbal healing practices have been absent from public record. Deatra and Adam have put together a snapshot of not only the herbs used by this culture, but also tell the story of its healers.

Deatra Cohen is an author, herbalist, master gardener and artist. She was a reference librarian for many years and always had an interest in nature, plants and medicinal herbs. When she began to study herbalism formally, she discovered there was no written record of the medicinal plant knowledge of her ancestors, the Ashkenazi Jews from the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe. 

Adam Siegel is an author, translator, and bibliographer. He studied linguistics at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, and library and information science at San José State University.  His translations from German, Russian, Serbian, and Croatian papers have been published widely, and he is a past recipient of the NEA Literary Translation Fellowship.

In this episode…

  • How enrolling in an herbalism course prompted Deatra to explore the herbal traditions of her ancestors
  • The investigative process of digging for clues about traditional Ashkenazi herbalism, a topic with very little previously published information
  • Researching the narrative of this culture and how it led to deeper conversations within Deatra’s family regarding World War II, displacement, and immigration
  • Use of cupping, protection against evil eye, and magico-religious medicine
  • Herbal cultural appropriation: from the perspective of the plants, this concept doesn’t exist!
  • The magic of tending and caring for herbs that take care of you

Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews by Deatra Cohen and Adam Siegel

  • Contact Deatra:


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