Israeli farmer remixes ancient scents near Dead Sea

Erlich sells his products from his farm. (AFP)
Updated 24 August 2019

Israeli farmer remixes ancient scents near Dead Sea

  • He claims to have re-created a scent that Cleopatra may have dabbed on her skin
  • “Everything produced in the settlements is illegal”

ALMOG, Palestinian Territories: At his farm near the Dead Sea in occupied Palestinian territory, Israeli Guy Erlich remixes blends of perfume and incense that he believes were used by royalty in the biblical era.
He claims to have re-created a scent that Cleopatra may have dabbed on her skin and oils that anointed ancient Jewish kings.
With a passion for ancient plants, Erlich set out in 2008 to try to grow them himself to turn into fragrances and other products, on a small hill in the West Bank, near the Israeli settlement of Almog.
He now cultivates around 60 biblical plants, from which he creates creams, perfumes, soap and honey, and attracts tourists who come to learn about the rare plants and take in their scents.
Erlich, 48, dreams of bringing back into widespread circulation the balm of Gilead, used medicinally during the ancient Roman era and referenced in the Bible.
He’s even named his farm after it.
The balm is thought to have been used by the ancient Greek physician, Galen, to heal infections and wounds, he says.
He mentions Jewish teachings from the Talmud and Christian sources that name it.
A farmer before making a job out of his fascination for biblical agriculture — some of which has long disappeared — Erlich says he has read everything he can find on the subject.
Elaine Solowey, a desert agriculture specialist at Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, helped him to identify some of his plants.
Speaking to AFP, she said that she could not say for sure if Erlich’s plants were those found in biblical times since more research was necessary.
“The species produced by Mr.Erlich are probably those cultivated in the region during antiquity, but we can’t be certain,” Solowey said.
“Many plant species mentioned in the Bible have disappeared and it is vital that we figure out how to study the subject,” she said, adding that more funding was needed.
Erlich makes honey with the flowers of Boswellia trees that yield frankincense — one of the offerings to the baby Jesus in the Bible’s New Testament.
The trees grow in places like Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia and Oman but Erlich has planted them at his Balm of Gilead Farm.
For now, the small leafed species takes up only a limited part of his farm, but the honey he produces sells at a premium price: $1,000 (900 euros) per kilogram.
The farm is currently quite spartan and he hopes in time to be able to develop his tourist center, a simple, wooden structure that shields visitors from the sun next to his fields.
Wearing boots and a large hat, he explains to visitors the story behind each plant and its name.
Erlich is seeking to attract investors but says it is difficult since his farm is in occupied territory.
For Palestinians, his work has more than a whiff of controversy, given the location of the farm.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors Israeli settlements, was unequivocal when asked about the project.
“Everything produced in the settlements is illegal,” he said. “That’s why we call for a boycott of such products.”
Settlement expansion has accelerated under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a policy that detractors say reduces the chances of a two-state solution to the Jewish nation’s conflict with the Palestinians.
But Erlich is undeterred.
Noting the ancient Egyptians’ use of fragrances and the possibility that several of the plants he grows were used at that time, he advertises his perfume as a type used by Cleopatra.
“Offer your wife Cleopatra’s perfume, the fragrances of antiquity, the scents of Rome,” he tells visitors.
Erlich also claims to have re-created fragrances used at the time of the two biblical-era Jewish temples, the first destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC and the second by the Romans in 70 AD.
“On your right hand, you have the scent of the first temple, on the left hand the second temple, and if you rub them against each other, you will smell the incense that will be burned in the third temple,” Erlich said.
According to Jewish tradition, the third temple will be built when the Messiah comes.
Erlich sells his products from his farm.
He has so far sold four kilos (8.8 pounds) of his frankincense honey in 30-gram (one-ounce) bottles and hopes to increase production.
Visitors can also buy a five-milliliter (0.2 ounce) bottle of fragrance for 100 shekels ($29, 26 euros).
“These products have a history, a specificity,” he said. “They are unique.”


A day in Elton John’s life: Buy Rolls, write hit song, dine with Ringo

Updated 19 October 2019

A day in Elton John’s life: Buy Rolls, write hit song, dine with Ringo

  • Diary entries helped jog Elton John’s memories from his 50-year career
  • ‘Even when I was doing a lot of drugs, I still carried on playing music’

LONDON: When Elton John was working on his new autobiography, the legendary singer, songwriter and performer pulled out diaries he had been encouraged to write during a stint in rehab.
One entry read like this: “Got up, tidied the house, bought a Rolls Royce, had dinner, wrote ‘Candle in the Wind,’ had dinner with Ringo Starr,” the musician said. “That was one day.”
John, 72, spoke in a video interview provided to Reuters by his publisher, Henry Holt & Co., to promote the release of his book, which is titled simply “Me.”
The diary entries helped jog John’s memories from his 50-year career filled with hit records, Grammy awards and royal friendships but also addiction and a suicide attempt two days before a show at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
“I wanted to show the tough ride of being a successful artist, and how I went through tough times, and how I came out at the end and got my life together,” John said. “It’s the story of my life up to the present day, warts and all.”
In the book, the “Crocodile Rock” singer revealed recent health scares including a near-fatal infection and a serious bout with appendicitis. “I did like 10 or 11 shows, 24 flights, with a burst appendix,” he said.
John is currently in the middle of a lengthy “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” world tour that will bring his touring career to an end. In the interview, he said performing on stage “just never gets old.”
“I never go on stage late,” he said. “I just love to get out there and I’m raring to go.”
“Even when I was doing a lot of drugs, I still carried on playing music,” he added. “It’s been my touchstone of my whole life.”
A highlight, John said, came in 1975 when John Lennon joined him to perform three songs at Madison Square Garden. It was Lennon’s first appearance on stage in New York since the Beatles played Shea Stadium.
Lennon was so nervous that he vomited before the performance, John said. “He came out to probably the most touching ovation I’ve ever heard,” John said. “We all shed a tear on stage.”
John said he is not sure what his future holds but he is still writing songs.
“I don’t know what’s next and I don’t want to know what’s next,” he said. “I’m just ready for the next chapter.”