Dr Ahmed's Herbal Garden
Lunch in the Herbal Garden
Dr Ahmed, a well respected local Hakim, skilled in local herbal medicines, runs a school in his garden for local Bedouin children to ensure that his traditional knowledge is not lost to coming generations.
A visit to his garden will provide an insight into the ancient garden tradition of the Jabaleya tribe and an opportunity to explore the other gardens of Wadi Itlah.
To get so much out of the sand and rock of the mountains, the Jabaleya learnt from the monks of Mt Sinai how to graft good fruit bearing trees onto hardy desert stock. The edible fig is grafted onto the wild fig which has drought resistant roots. Pear is grafted onto the resilient Sinai hawthorn. New varieties of apricot are grafted onto the ancient apricot trees of the mountains.
The Jabaleya avoid chemical fertilizers, preferring to collect dung from the goat shed which they leave in the sun for several months until all the bacteria and insects have been killed off by the intense sunlight. It then becomes suitable for digging into the soil around the trees.
Pests are controlled by simple expedients such as fitting bags around the pomegranates to prevent infestation by the caterpillars of the oddly named Pomegranate Playboy butterfly. All the produce is therefore organic.
While vegetables and animal fodder are grown between the trees, the wild herbs are left to sprout amongst the rocks and boulders. The Bedouin know their plants and use Hineida (Chilidenus montanus) to treat kidney ailments, Qaysoum (Achillea fragrantissima) for a headache, Sakaran (Hyoscyamus muticus) to treat asthma and Samwa (Cleome droserifolia) for diabetes.
Apricots ripen in May when a mature tree can produce as much as 70 kilograms. There is therefore a glut when you can feast off the fresh fruits or guzzle the freshly squeezed juice. The excess then needs to be dried in the hot sun and stored in bags to be used later in the year. Pears appear in July. Figs ripen in August. Dates are harvested in September. Olives are knocked off the trees in December. The fruiting seasons give a rhythm to the life of the Bedouin.
In the nearby garden of Mohamed Musa, irrigation techniques are employed that go back to Byzantine times. Water drawn from a well is stored in a stone tank at the top of the garden. A sluice gate at the foot of the tank can be opened to release water which gushes out along stone channels to depressions dug in around the trees. By plugging one channel and opening up another, Mohamed can redirect the water where he wants.
As well as the gardens, Wadi Itlah also shelters the cave and shrine of John Climacus, the most important literary figure of early desert monasticism whose Ladder of Divine Ascent is the most widely read spiritual text in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Go to History notes to find an article on John Climacus.
Please go to our Botany notes for more information on some of the fascinating plants of the area.