MARIAM, CYPRUS' HERB & PLANT QUEEN
Captured by The Recipe Hunters in Cyprus
Mariam's passion is teaching others how to use the natural world as a means to compliment their health and heal their bodies. Mariam spends hours a week in her lab preparing and experimenting with various tinctures and distillations to produce a library of natural remedies. In 2006, Mariam published a book called “Healthy Living in Cyprus,” which highlights the health benefits of a selection of Cyprus’ naturally growing plants and herbs. She is one of the most well spoken, smartest, and pleasant individuals we met on our journey. She has a heart of gold and answers our questions about herbal remedies with honesty and care.
Get to Know Mariam
Where are you from?
I was born in Baghdad but am half Iraqi and half Iranian. After I turned 3, we moved to Egypt as refugees since it was not safe in Iraq because of the turmoil between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the area. So we left the country. After Egypt we lived in Lebanon, London, the Emirites, and the United States. Luckily my father was an educated lawyer and was able to find work wherever we moved to. I went to college in Houston, Texas and then moved back to London where I received my masters in management science from the London School of Economics. After graduating, I moved to Cyprus where I married and had my four children.
What does Cyprus mean to you?
When I moved to Cyprus 35 years ago, I left my degree behind and began working with herbs, homeopathy and natural remedies. Now I would consider Cyprus my home. But you know I suffered a lot as a kid traveling from here to there always moving. When you travel to so many places, as I did in my youth and adolescence you have to adapt and you learn quickly to feel at home anywhere. I am lucky in that regard. I never feel too homesick. It is similar to your travels now, you don’t have this strange attachment to a place.
What inspired you to learn about medicinal herbs and plants?
When I was 18 my uncle who lived in Hawaii gave me a book by Nicholas Culpepper, a famous British herbalist, astrologer, and apothecary, who was famous for treating the poor for free using natural remedies. I became fascinated in the idea of healing people using the natural world around you. Back in that time people used to believe that the more medicine you used the more advanced the society. I believe it is the same today.
What advice would you give to someone who was looking to live a more healthy natural lifestyle?
Lesson #1: Go for seasons. Eat according to the season. This is the simplest piece of advice I can give. Not many people know what grows when. I think God gave us certain things to eat during certain times of year for a purpose.
Lesson # 2: Drink a lot of water. Keep hydrated.
Lesson #3: Trust what grows around you. You will usually find what your body needs around your neighborhood. Familiarize yourself with the plants and herbs in your area.
Lesson #4: Listen to your body. Get to know your body. Get in touch with how it feels.
One of my criticisms about modern doctors is that they don't get to know their patients on a personal level, what kind of lifestyle they have, how they live each day, what their habits are. Because of this lack of knowledge they are not able to understand the patient as a whole and consequently they are not able to treat each person as an individual. Each individual responds differently to their environment and it is up to the individual to pay more attention to how their body reacts to the world around them.
Lesson #5: Cut back on sugar. Our society relies way too much on sugar.
Lesson #6: Read the ingredients on the foods your consume. We need to understand exaclty what we are putting into our bodies.
Lesson #7: Use Turmeric. A teaspoon here, a teaspoon there. My husband jokes that next I will be slipping turmeric into his coffee.
Being an advocate of natural remedies based of herbs and plants, what do you think about the mass use of antibiotics and A.D.D./A.D.H.D. meds throughout the world?
There is NO need to give out medicine so freely. No need. Especially when there are honestly so many natural remedies of natural antibiotics with no side effects. Such as oregano as a tea. Why not try that? As a side note, if you are taking oregano as medication…take it as medication at a higher dosage. What I mean by that is it is not supposed to taste good. Medicine just doesn't taste good. There are too many additives in the medications we take now to make them taste good. I think a big problem with Attention Defecit Disorder is that our children are consuming way too much sugar. We need to examine the cause.
Do you feel an obligation to share the knowledge you have learned now that it is being lost and now that the world is becoming increasingly more reliant on synthetic medications?
Yes, absolutely. But I also have hope as I see some traditions being revitalized. There is an interest that is being ignited in small pockets of people around the world and this is very exciting.
How does one make a difference in changing the perspective?
I believe you change perspective slowly and the best way to do this is with educating children from a young age. My dream is to make games that teach herbs to kids. This has been a dream for a long time. But I would not consider myself an artist so I need some help!
You showed us how to make date molasses. Why? What are the health benefits of making date molasses? How do you recommend eating it?
"I showed it to you because it was in season. The health benefits of date molasses are that it is high in magnesium & calcium so it is good for bones and blood. It contains a lot of minerals. Just a teaspoon will do the job. It is an excellent source of energy especially for women in labor and for athletes. It contains a lot of natural sugars and so it is a great substitute for sugar as a natural sweetener. In our household one of the oldest traditions is to eat the date molasses with pita bread and clotted cream. When I can get milk from a local farmer I make clotted cream and drizzle the date molasses on top. Or another way to eat it is to add it to tahini as a dip. I also use it in cakes and baking."
Mariam's Date Molasses Recipe Coming soon!