Monday, September 25, 2006

Egozim Increasing Phlegm - Part 3

Do nuts increase phlegm? I am no doctor, so I will have to leave any conclusive statement to those in the know. A related question is whether nuts were believed, by people in general, or by doctors, to increase phlegm "back in the day," when this custom came about.

Maharil (d. 1427) gives over this explanation, so we should look for sources from about that time. I did find a source from a bit later which connects almonds to raising up phlegm:

From this website:

This business of almonds stopping excessive secretions is not exclusively an Indian idea. If we travel to England in 1597 we find Gerard running his mouth about almonds acting to stop the over production of mucous.

"white juice, like milke, which over and besides that it nourisheth, and is good for those that are troubled with the laske and bloudie flix (bloody discharges), it is profitable for those that have the pleurisie and spit up filthie matter;for there is likewise in the almonds an opening and concocting qualitie, with a certain clensing facultie, by which medicine to the chest and lungs, or lights, and serve for the raising up of phlegm and rotten humors. It also cures old coughs."

The almond is a member of the Rose family and the entire family contains tannins, chemicals found in plants that were once used in tanning leathers. Tannins dry out animal skin and convert them into leather. They do the same thing to the linings of the human body. Almonds contain tannins in the brown peal that surrounds the seed and it is likely that these chemicals are in part responsible for the drying nature of the almond.

I'm not certain it means stopping phlegm, for this 1597 source mentions "raising up of phlegm."

From another website, about white walnuts:

Has been used to clear long standing phlegm or mucous.

From what I can make out, it may be the result of tannin in these nuts. But again, I do not know what modern medical science has to say about nuts and mucus.


Josh said...

Both of those sources, unless I'm misreading them, seem to be talking about the removal of phlegm/mucus.

I spoke to a doctor whom I've found to usually be a good source for these sort of medico-halachic questions, and was told that monounsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, are known to prevent the formation of mucus, although he mentioned that a Google search pulled up some alternative medicine sites that draws a connection between nuts and the production of mucus.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of reading the sources, I agree with you - that it is talking about the removal of phlegm/mucus. However, I would read it as removal of phlegm which is already present in the body. This phlegm must exit the body somehow, and most likely through the oral/nasal cavity.

Thus, "raising up mucus."

Thanks for the medical input. I wonder whether the alternative medicine sites base themselves on medieval sources...

ADDeRabbi said...

isn't the word 'egoz' a specific reference to hazelnuts?
keep digging!

joshwaxman said...

perhaps only in the sense that they might have been among the nuts that Hazel (to make a Rav Lichtenstein reference) ;) referred to.

That is, it might be true in modern Hebrew, but Jastrow just defines it as nut. And Rav Moshe haDarshan (who I'll mention in two posts from now) makes reference to an egoz having 4 chambers, which I don't think a hazelnut has. I need to know more about nuts.

But I'll see if I can look further into it.


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