Chamomile

Chamomile or Matricaria chamomilla was a powerfully healing herb in the Pale of Settlement between the World Wars.

Chamomile’s history as a medicinal herb has deep roots. The Greek physician Galen, writing in the first centuries of the Common Era, documented that the plant was already well known for its effectiveness at soothing and warming the body and for its ability to cause perspiration.

Almost two thousand years later, in several small villages in the Pale of Settlement between the World Wars, chamomile was still being called on as a soothing remedy. In Antopol (current day Belarus) one survivor remembered the plant as a popular cure for “fever, stomach pain, and other internal sicknesses” (https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/antopol1/ant090.html#Page94.

Another survivor remembered her mother’s garden in Rubiezewicze (present day Belarus) where she grew “dahlias, chamomile (known as “romeshka”), peas and beans” and other vegetables. (https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Rubiezewicze/rub149.html)

In the town of Gorodets (present day Belarus), “chamomile (known locally as “rumianik) and dried berries (the Yiddish word for berries is “yagde”) were used to cause one to sweat when [they] had a cold.” (https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/gorodets/gor167.html#Page178)

In Eishyshok (present day Lithuania), chamomile was prescribed in baths for yeast infections and as infusions for colds. (from There Once Was a World by Yaffa Eliach p. 444)

The Yiddish words for chamomile, “rumianik” and “romeshka” are Slavic in origin and translate as “ruddy”. Regina Lilienthal (1877–1924), an early ethnographer of Jews in the Pale, wrote in a 1904 article Dziecko żydowskie (The Jewish Child), that chamomile was part of the infant's diet and explained that its name in Yiddish was related to Slavic words for "ruddy" because a ruddy complexion was understood to signify good health.

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