(September 18, 2013 / JNS)
Another High Holidays season is upon us, which means Sukkot is right around the corner. In no time you’ll be ordering your annual bouquet of palm fronds, citrons, myrtle, and willows—the famous Four Species. Given the state of the economy these days, it’s painful to buy anything that you can only use once. Why not stretch the value of your lulav and etrog this year with a little creative repurposing post-festival? When they can be shaken and blessed no more, try one or all of these suggestions for getting the most out of your four species.
The lulav bundle, including the palm fronds after which it is named, twigs of myrtle (hadasim), and willow branches (aravot), has customarily been put aside after the Sukkot holiday and saved until Passover time. Having by then dried out, they are used to fuel the fire that burns the chametz found during the final cleaning of home, or as kindling in a wood-fire oven being used to bake matzah. Some also have the tradition of using the dried lulav palm as a broom to sweep up those last bits of hidden chametz. These ritual uses are considered a respectful way to dispose of the lulav, which has the status of a sacred object in Jewish law.
For something new this year, consider nourishing your creative side by exploring the art of palm weaving. The individual leaves of the lulav can be twisted and braided into variety of beautiful patterns, or folded into shapes like origami. Chabad.orgrecommends weaving palm leaves into a basket that can be used to hold spices for havdalah. Check the Web for helpful instructions and inspiration—there are a number of websites devoted to the craft, which is also a popular Easter activity.
As for the hadasim, while still fresh they have a sweet and delicate fragrance, and can also be used for havdalah purposes. The oil of myrtle plants is known to have a variety of medicinal properties, although extracting it is not exactly a DIY project. Aravot, which tend dry and fall apart rather quickly, don’t lend themselves as well as hadasim to repurposing. Those who observe Hoshanah Rabah towards the end of Sukkot, however, will be familiar with the custom of whacking bundles of aravotagainst the ground, a mysterious and ancient ritual marking the moment that we formally retire the lulav and etrog for the year.
The etrog (citron), the most aromatic of the Four Species and the only edible one, offers the most possibilities for efficient and enjoyable repurposing. One familiar strategy is to push whole cloves into the fresh etrog’s peel, filling up as much surface area as possible. Theetrog will eventually dry out and shrivel up, but the cloves, now held in place in the shape of the fruit, retain their delectable scent and can be used for years to come as b’samim for havdalah.
Etrogim can also be boiled and turned into jelly, sliced and candied for a tangy dessert, or steeped in vodka for a citron liqueur. You can find a post on the blog Shivimpanim.org containing simple step-by-step instructions for each of these preparations.
The blog’s most original contribution by far, however, is reincarnating the etrog as Mr. Etrog Head, an adorable (and fragrant) take on everyone’s favorite customizable root vegetable. Who knows—if properly refrigerated, he just might save you some money on this year’s Hanukkah gifting!
Binyamin Kagedan has an MA in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.