Ein Gedi Agriculture

Acacia Tree

Aromatic Plants

Ein Gedi with its warm climate and plentiful water was known as an agricultural center. All the slopes were covered by terraces. Trees used the moisture of the aquifers. Ein Gedi was known mainly as a major site for the growing of aromatic and medicinal plants. One of these plants was the kofer, the “henna” of the Song of Songs: “My beloved to me is a spray of henna blooms from the vineyards of Ein Gedi” (1:14). Henna (from the Arabic hina ) has been identified as a low tree or shrub known as Lawsonia alba. For thousands of years, its roots and leaves have been used to produce a yellowish-red aromatic dye for the hair, nails and teeth. It has also been used to treat urinary tract ailments. Since clusters of henna resemble grapes they were often picked by birds.

But most of all Ein Gedi was associated with the aparsemon. The identity of this plant has not been established with certainty, but it may have been the balsam shrub. “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller reports that according to botanists the balsam bush called Commiphora Opobasamum grows only in Arabia. Balsam stems from the Greek word xilobalsama; in Hebrew it is called bossem.
Josephus Flavius, the great Jewish Historian tells us that there has been balsam in Palestine since the time of Solomon. The bushes were cultivated principally in the neighborhood of Jericho and had been reared from the seeds which had been found among the spices which the Queen of Sheba brought as gifts (p.233-34). The resin of the aparsemon was very much in demand among physicians, who used it to treat headaches and eye diseases; it was also used to produce an expensive perfume. Marc Anthony presented Cleopatra with the aparsemon plantation of Ein Gedi and the Jericho Plain. Sweet smelling perfumes have always been highly prized; aromatic resins were not only esteemed as an incense in the ritual of the temple, but they had also their place in everyday life, in the home, in clothing, on the hair, and in divans and beds (The Bible as History, Werner Keller,p.233). “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon (Proverbs 7:16).”
The resin was extracted from the tree by making an incision in the lower part of the trunk.
The Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus from the 4th century BC wrote that it took an entire day to collect enough resin to fill an entire cup.
When the Romans entered Palestine, they actually found balsam plantations in the plain of Jericho. The conquerors prized the rare shrub so highly that they sent twigs of it to Rome as a sign of their victory over the Jews. In 70 AD Titus and Vespasian put an imperial guard in charge of the plantings to protect them from destruction. A thousand years later the Crusaders found no trace of the precious bushes. The Turks had neglected them and allowed them to die (The Bible as History, p.234).

A variety of other tree and shrub species

Over ten tree species can be found in the oases of the Dead Sea Valley. One of the most prominent is the mudar, referred to locally as the “apple of Sodom,” with large leaves and hollow green fruits that bear only seeds and long, white silken fibers. The seeds of this plant are spread by the wind. The Mishna and the Talmud relate that the fibers were used to make wicks (ptilat ha midbar mentioned  also in the Tanach ). All parts of the tree contain a poisonous white liquid, though it was noted that the juice from the leaves are used for medicine.

In spring and fall the pink blossoms of the moringa rotmit ( in Hebrew for “broomlike moringa”). The tree’s drooping branches are almost totally devoid of leaves. Hikers are familiar with the “moringa line” on the cliffs of Nahal Arugot and Nahal David: a straight row of trees that take their sustenance from a water-bearing stratum of rock.

But the trees that truly set the tone for the  Dead Sea Valley oases are the acacias (top of page), originating in eastern Africa. In some desert regions, acacias are the only type of tree to be found. It can therefore to be assumed that this is the tree from which the Israelites built the Tabernacle and the Ark of  Covenant. Two species grow in the Dead Sea Valley: the twisted acacia and.  the umbrella acacia .The northernmost twisted acacia in the world grows next to Tel Jericho. The umbrella acacia develops as a low tree or multi-trunked shrub. Unlike the twisted acacia, it stays close to the Arava Valley. The northernmost trees of this species are in the Ein Gedi area. Acacias are an important  source of wood.

Sycamore Tree Branch

Sycomore Fig Trees

Sycomore fig trees grow along the seashore. In 1976 lots of Sycomore fig trees were found. Already in Amos’ times sycomore fig trees were cultivated . “I am not a prophet. I am a cattle breeder and a tender of sycomore figs (7:14)”. In order for sycomore figs to get ripe, one has to cut the trunk with a knife. The wood of the sycomore trees has been used to make wooden coffins, which  were well  preserved. These coffins were found in the Necropolis, a valley located behind the hill of Kibbutz Ein Gedi.

Sycamore Figs