Jamal Hamoud of Aya Natural: In the Druze tradition and in Beit Jann in particular, we wrapped babies in olive oil and myrtle powder for immunization.

In biblical, Talmudic and medieval times, it was not unusual for the empires that ruled Israel’s soil to exploit the healing properties of trees and plants indigenous to the country. Now, over the last decade, a growing number of Israeli researchers and companies are rediscovering these ancient herbal formulas and repackaging them as healthy natural alternatives to synthetic brand name, skin care and hair products.

“The herbal remedies have always existed, but we never granted them importance,” said herbalist Shimon Shemla. “But today, more and more people are finding that they lack effective answers to viruses, allergies, and even cancer, so they are returning to the sources.”

Fifteen years ago Shemla left his career as a real-estate developer to study botany, naturopathy, and ancient herbal remedies. Five years later he founded Merapeh Habosem (Simple Natural in English), a study center and small-scale manufacturer specializing in ancient Hebrew remedies. Located in Kibbutz Cabri in the Galilee, Merapeh Habosem sells its handmade products through its visitor’s center and website.

Shemla has studied and documented the properties of over 500 herbs, plants and trees, many of which feature prominently in his serums, shampoos, soaps, ointments, toners, and peels. Using homeopathic techniques, he concocts recipes for the hair and skin using plants and trees mentioned in the Bible and Talmud, among them: etrog (citron), myrtle, sage, bay leaves, tamarisk, willow, oak, and pomegranate.

In the Judean desert, Herbs of Kedem, specializes in plants cultivated in a very specific desert region: the dunes located between the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, and the cool Hebron hills. Research conducted by Dr. Nissim G. Amzallag, the company’s founder, has shown that these plants contain compounds that allow them to adapt to the harsh and extreme climates of the region.

“If they can regenerate themselves effectively, Amzallag assumed they would have a similar effect on humans,” explained chemical engineer Dr. Amir Kitron, CEO of Herbs of Kedem. The company’s products have been shown to effectively treat nail fungus, psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, scars, and hair loss. The company has set up a non-profit research and development center near its factory in Moshav Carmel to further explore scientifically the medical uses and benefits of the plants.

In the company’s study fields, several endemic strains of herbs grow wild, among them oregano, lavender, mint, thyme, and sage. Their oils and extracts make up the main ingredients in the company’s wide range of products. All plants are grown organically and hand-picked for production.

Herbs of Kedem has established itself as one of Israel’s leaders in the field of natural skin care in part because of the purity of its products and ingredients.

“We are fanatic about using no synthetic ingredients whatsoever,” Kitron told ISRAEL21c. He considers moisturizing creams particularly problematic, since they are created by bonding oil and water, an unstable compound which usually requires preservatives to ward off bacteria. As an alternative to lotions, Herbs of Kedem has created a line of moisturizing ointments made from essential oils. The purity of the ingredients is apparent from the pungent herbal aroma of the ointments and toners.

Another benefit of using plants for skin care is that they are environmentally friendly. “Plants produce a lot of chemicals in a very clean manner, without polluting the environment, without emitting toxic substances. They work with enzymes that do everything in a sophisticated way,” said Kitron.

In Afula, Moraz Galilee Medical Herbs specializes in a unique plant prolific in the Galilee: polygonum, which contains natural anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial compounds that have been found to repair tissue and promote the healing of wounds. About 90 perfect of the company’s products feature this ingredient.

“Polygonum is found in other countries and cultures, but the strain grown in Israel is known to have higher healing properties than other strains around the world due to the climate, atmosphere, and minerals in the Galilean soil,” says Moraz’s CEO Ofer Mor.

According to company legend, the abundance and effectiveness of Galilean polygonum was discovered when a young girl stumbled upon a wild field of polygonum during her playful, barefoot rambles. Her father, Eliyahu Yahel, a well-known herbalist and the founder of Moraz, discovered that after she roamed the fields, the cuts in her feet healed rather quickly. This incident led to one of Moraz’s initial products, Caftan foot cream, used for preventing cracks, dryness and rough skin.

The Galilee is not only a breeding ground for a variety of herbs and plants, but for co-existence between the variety of peoples and cultures represented in Israel.

Aya Natural, a natural cosmetics company, is headquartered in the Druze village of Beit Jann. The Druze people, an offshoot of Islam since the 10th century, have been taking advantage of the medicinal properties of herbs, plants, and trees growing in the Galilee for centuries.

Aya’s two founders, Dr. Ziad Dabour, a pharmacist, and Jamal Hamoud a chemist, deliberately built their boutique and visitors center in Beit Jann to bring employment to their village. Their mission is to combine modern pharmaceutical knowledge with Druze tradition.

“In the Druze tradition and in Beit Jann in particular, we wrapped babies in olive oil and myrtle powder for immunization,” explained Hamoud.

Most of Aya’s products are 100% natural and biodegradable, made from Galilean olive oil and other essential oils, and they are sold across Israel and Europe.

While Israel has long been recognized in the skin care industry for its Dead Sea products, there has been a surge of worldwide interest in Israel’s plant-based products as well.

“The demand for alternative cosmetic or pharmaceutical products in Israel and the world is growing 15-20 percent annually, compared to a two to five percent growth of conventional skin care and cosmetics products,” says Mor.

“More people are in search of natural products, particularly Israeli-made products,” says Gilia Gilad, a naturopathy practitioner based in Jerusalem. “The awareness of what people put in their mouth is increasing, but so is what they put on their body.”

And while several Israeli companies are expanding their markets abroad, Gilia Gilad thinks the best beneficiaries are Israelis.

“It’s known that the organism of the human body is an inextricable part of nature, and therefore it responds better to ingredients found in their natural habitat. This is true for food, and certainly with regards to ingredients that come in contact with the skin.”