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Ancient Hebrew Cures
One is a Talmudic mouthwash composed of dough water, olive oil and salt. Actually, I
encountered a young man from Bnei Braq who actually prepares such a concoction.
Another talmudic cure for bad breath is holding a pepper between the teeth. Unfortunately,
noone is around to tell us exactly what they referred to as a pepper two thousand years
ago. About eight hundred years ago, the Jewish sage Rashi, suggested that a long pepper
was the kind required. Intrepid readers may want to compare several kinds and let me
Finally, the ancient Jewish folklore recommends chewing mastic. Here, we know that the
reference is to the resin of Pistacia lentiscus, a bush related to the pistachio. This
resin has been chewed around the Mediterranean for thousands of years, and probably is
quite effective in oral malodor reduction (chewing anything stimulates saliva and
ameliorates bad breath). Mastic is also used for other medicinal and semi-medicinal
purposes, including its incorporation in home-brewed arak. Mastic can still be obtained
from several sources, and is sold as breath-freshening chewing gum in Greece. It is not
cheap. However, if you are thinking of collecting the resin from local shrubs, think
again. Gum mastic is big business on the Greek island of Chios, just off the Turkish
coast, which has a practical monopoly on its production. Incisions are made in the trunk
of the tree and the exuding resin hardens and is harvested. The quality of the mastic
depends on whether it is collected straight from the bark, from the ground (actually from
stones laid around the trunk), etc.
An indication of the importance of fresh breath in Judaism, is that whereas chewing gum
mastic is usually not allowed during the Sabbath, chewing it for relief of bad breath is
permitted. Gum mastic (ladanum) was mentioned in the book of Genesis (chapter 37) as one
of the products carried by the caravan that took Joseph down to Egypt.