Ketura is located 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Eilat, in the southern Arava. Travel time by car is approximately 2 1/2 hours from Be’er Sheva, 3 1/2 hours from Jerusalem and 4 hours from Tel Aviv. Since members do not own their own cars, and the kibbutz itself has few cars, most traveling outside the region is done by rented car, plane or bus.

Ketura was founded by a small group of young North Americans, graduates of the Young Judaea Year-In-Israel Course, at the close of the Yom Kippur War in November 1973. The first years of the kibbutz’s existence were marked by great difficulties and frustrations, leading many of the founders to leave. In time, other Young Judeans, a variety of immigrants, and graduates of the Israeli Scout movement joined the core group of these who remained. As Ketura grew, a more stable lifestyle was created, and the members began raising families in this, their new home.

Today, Ketura has grown to be the second largest settlement in the region, with 140 members and candidates and over 147 children. One-third of the members are native Israelis; the majority of the immigrants come from English-speaking countries, with a smaller number from Europe and the former USSR.

Until a few years ago, agriculture and outside salaries were the economic pillars of Ketura. Today, the focus is creative economic thought and entrepreneurship in any field in which someone expresses an interest. This has opened up a wide variety of interesting employment with good, stable incomes.

Cultivation of Middle Eastern Medicinal Plants at Kibbutz Ketura

Through its Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) and as a member of the Green Kibbutz movement, Ketura has pioneered organic farming while establishing experimental orchards and plantations that are today a leading center for research and development of new crops in Israel.

Dr. Elaine Solowey, director of plant research programs at Ketura, is an internationally known horticulturist, and expert on arid land cultivation and sustainable agriculture. As consultant for NMRU she has been instrumental in establishing the MEMP cultivation program at Ketura, which currently:

•  Conserves domesticates and improves plant genotypes of local wild
medicinal species.
•  Re-introduces locally extinct medicinal species once found in the area.
•  Provides raw plant material for scientific testing from the cultivation site
without depleting wild sources.

The plantation site at Ketura covers several dunams of land and contains over 50 varieties of organically cultivated medicinal plants, shrubs and trees, including:

•  Rare and endangered plants from the desert regions of Israel,
particularly species traditionally used as anti-infectives, tonics,
for anti-aging, cardiac problems and liver diseases.
•  Aromatic species often used as spices and teas; including sage,
chamomile, valerian, dill etc.
•  Rare plants and trees from other areas in the Middle East, e.g.
North Africa, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.,
and including the highly medicinal Argania and Merula trees.

Lost Biblical Species

For more than 3000 years, Israel was the site for cultivating several exotic species, used in the production of Biblical incense, anointing oil, as well as perfumes and medicines.

Some of these species, such as the Boswellia trees, used to make Frankincense, Commiphora species, used in the manufacture of Myrrh and the Opobalsumum tree thought to be the source of the valuable Balm of Gilead. They were native to the Arabian peninsula, but were introduced into ancient Israel, according to legend, by seeds given to King Solomon by the Queen of Sheba.

Some 800 years ago, during the Crusader period, these valuable plantation sites finally disappeared, although their memory lives on in popular folklore, while in some cases their exact sites at the Dead Sea have been uncovered in archeological excavations.

NMRU is currently trying to re-introduce these valuable species both at Kibbutz Ketura and at Kibbutz Ein Gedi so that plantations will once again flourish as they did a thousand years ago.