Joanna Maissel
Joanna Maissel
A flower a day keeps the doctor away

Natures’ salute to the resilient workers in the south

A caper flower

Natures salute to the resilient care workers in the South

This blog is dedicated to all the workers, therapists, welfare social workers, psychologists and volunteers in all the communities around the Gaza border region who go out every day, despite continuous rocket attacks  and give support to the residents of the South. They show total resilience in the face of difficulties and use this to persevere in their dedication to their cause.

As well as the rocket attacks, at this time of the year there are also incendiary devices setting alight the crop fields in the south.  Why does this phenomenon happen every year at this time?  Because now is the season where the crops are dry and therefore burn easily, so it is easy to wipe out entire crops in minutes with just a small spark.  All over Israel most of the plants in the wild have turned brown, this is the natural cycle here due to the rains that stopped falling back in March.  Many wild annual plants are completing their cycle – wild flowers are finishing, they are producing their last fruits, turning brown, going to seed and those seeds will now wait patiently until the winter rains to sprout and start the cycle again.

The exceptions to this are the ones which are resilient and perseverant and the most determined one of all is the caper bush (tzalaf kotzani). This is a dense and thorny shrub that sprouts its branches, flowers and fruit months after the last spring rains have ended and often out of walls and rocks.  When everything else is parched and weary under the burning sun, the caper bush pushes out what I believe is the one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. It has a white backdrop of petals that provide a frame for the delicate tendrils which start as yellow and gradually turn into pink and then purple.

Perseverance can also be used to describe the family bearing the name of the caper in the Bible — called the Tzlochfad women, after the Hebrew name for caper — Tzalaf.  The Tzlofchad women were without a father and as women were not able to inherit a piece of land in Eretz Israel. They came forward and asked for what they believed to be theirs and their perseverance was rewarded by a change of law to allow women to inherit.

This means that this flower has to work extra hard in that short time to get its job done — to get itself pollinated.  It attracts different pollinators at different stages of its short flowering life and it adjusts its angle and sugar levels to suit each pollinator.  In the evening it attracts the honey bees, at night the hawk moths and in the morning the ants. Let us look closer, not just at the beautiful flower but also the branch.  When starting at the tip of the branch the bud starts to form and then every day the bud gets bigger and bigger until the fifth or sixth day when the flower opens.  Now let’s check the clock!  After six in the evening the flower starts to unfurl revealing its inner beauty.

Caper flower unfurling at 6pm

It will then blossom all night and up until about 11 o’clock in the morning the flower will be fully open and in its full glory. However, if you slept in and only see the flower later then the caper flower will have wilted and all those beautifully erect tendrils will now be flopped down on the petals. I know how it feels while guiding in the heat as we often wilt after 11am but we persevere on.   That flower will not open again and that evening the next bud in turn will open up. A new flower every day!

In the Talmud, Rabbi Gamliel taught his students that “in the future the trees will produce fruit every day” but one of his students laughed and said ‘doesn’t it state “There is nothing new under the sun”? (Kohelet 1:9).  As proof, Rabbi Gamliel then led his students out to see the daily new caper flower forming.

Buds growing larger each day

When we think of capers, we think of the little intensely pickled green balls that are often served with smoked salmon and cream cheese.  These capers are not the fruit but are actually the bud of the flower that are picked on the third to fourth day of growth (remember a day or so later they will already blossom).  I have been foraging caper buds for the last couple of days and after a total of 3 hours of picking I have picked 300gm, which makes one understand why they are so expensive. The actual fruit of the caper bush grows after the flower has finished and they look like mini oval watermelons. Both the fruit and the bud have to be pickled otherwise they are very bitter.  As well as being delicious with smoked salmon they are good in salads on pizza or with fish.  They are full of vitamins A, B, E and K and good for clotting blood and healthy bones.

Fruit of the caper bush (size of an apricot)

The name of the plant in Hebrew is tzalaf which in modern Hebrew means sniper or marksman.  This is based on the fruit which when overripe splits open and shoots its seeds in many directions and also refers to the tiny rounded thorns which are like mini curved daggers. In the Mishna the caper buds are called Cafrisin which is also the Hebrew name for Cyprus but it is said that the name came from the Greek name Capra, which was the word for goat poop as it resembled the small green caper buds!!

Pernicious thorns!

Picking the buds or fruit requires resilience and care as the caper bush has nasty little thorns which curl inwards and scratch you as you take your hand out of the bush. This also slows down picking as they catch on your arms as you reach in to pick the third or fourth bud. These thorns are mentioned in one of the many tales relating to King Solomon.  While eating at a banquet he started to choke on a fish bone.  All the plants tried to save him but it was the caper with its hooked thorn that finally managed to hook the bone from his throat.  He blessed the caper and said that from then on it would grow in the holiest places in the world.  Next time you are at the Kotel check out the caper bushes growing out of the wall.

Stories above and many others make the caper a symbol of resilience, perseverance and determination. The caper is compared to the Jewish people as it defies destruction and will grow back against all odds. It is ironic that just now when it is most relevant it is flowering in salute and to show solidarity to the resilient and perseverant workers and residents of the South.

So you want to pickle a caper?

Soak the capers for three days in cold water changing the water every day – this is to remove the bitterness.

100gm Capers

¾ cup of water, mixed with a tspoon of salt and juice of a lemon

2 cloves of garlic

3-4 stalks of dill (can use bishops weed which is growing now! Follow this link to learn more about it Nature ‘n Nosh Bishops Weed Post)

A couple of slices of lemon

2-3 bay leaves

Put all the ingredients in a sterilized jar, close well and leave for ten days (not in the fridge).

Recipe courtesy of Yatir Sadeh

About the Author
I discovered my real passion for nature ten years ago and was lucky to be able to turn it into my career. I am a freelance nature guide at Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Reserve and Park Ariel Sharon. Corona gave me the opportunity to create my own narrative by founding Nature 'n Nosh Israel: A tour experiencing the plants, flowers and trees in the wild Israeli landscape by tasting them, smelling them and hearing their stories. (Facebook: Nature 'n Nosh Israel) I was born in London and made Aliyah 30 years ago. I live in Modiin with my husband, 2 grown up sons, teenage daughter and dog.
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