Herbs of the Bible
There are numerous references in the Bible to a wide variety of herbs. Obviously, most of these herbs are well-suited to dry, desert-like conditions as one would find in the Middle East. When researching the herbs to include in the Bible-themed herb garden, one may find different herbs referenced for the same verse. This inconsistency is due to the many different translations of the same verse. One translation may attempt to specifically identify an herb while another translation may refer to it more simply, as in "bitter herb." The list below was compiled by Jane Dole of Indiana, Pennsylvania. Her article appears in Phyllis V. Shaudys’ Herbal Treasures (Storey Communications, Inc. Schoolhouse Road, Pownal VT 05261: 1990)
Historically, herbs like spices, are rich in legend, fact, lore, romance, and business. Wars have been fought, trade routes established, lives sold, and cultures, countries and businesses founded, all in the name of the plants we call herbs. Below is a listing of herbs mentioned in the Bible or associated with the Christian religion.
Aloe (Aquilari agalloche) is believed to be the only tree descended to man from the Garden of Eden.
(Numbers 24:6) Like valleys that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is referenced several times in the Old Testament.
(Exodus 16:31) Now the house of Israel called its name manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is an herb native to the upper areas of the Nile, mentioned in the Bible, along with Mint (Mentha sp.), when Jesus reproved the scribes.
(Matthew 23:23) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
Garlic (Allium sativum) is mentioned only once in the Bible. It was held in great esteem by the ancient Egyptians.
(Numbers 11:5) "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic."
Hyssop (Sorghum vulgare) is known as the holy herb. Hyssop was used to cleanse the temples and other sacred places of the Egyptians. David mentions hyssop in Psalms 51:7. Hyssop as we know it may or may not be the hyssop mentioned by David. There is some debate since the derivation of the name hyssop is in the Greek word hussopos and the Hebrew esob, meaning simply, "holy herb."
(Psalms 51:7) Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Mustard (Brassica nigra) is described in Matthew 13:31 as "the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof."
Rose (Rosa spp.) The name for a rose is almost the same in every European language. Dried roses have been found in Egyptian tombs.
(Isaiah 35:1) The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the rose.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) has long been the symbol of sorrow and repentance, and may have been nicknamed the "herb of grace" in Christian times for the grace given by God following repentance for one’s sins. Brushes made from rue were once used to sprinkle holy water at the ceremony preceding High Mass.
(Luke 11:42) "But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is frequently mentioned in Scripture, always for its bitterness. According to legend, wormwood grew up in the trail left by the serpent’s tail as it slithered out of the Garden of Eden.
(Jeremiah 23:15) Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: "Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and give them poisoned water to drink; for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone forth into all the land."
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a symbol of fidelity and remembrance once used in the holiest of Christian ceremonies, the wedding and the funeral. For centuries people thought that the rosemary plant would never grow higher than 6 feet in 33 years so as not to stand taller than Christ. Another story tells that the flowers were originally white, but changed to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on the bush while fleeing from Herod’s soldiers with the Christ child.
Costmary (Chrysanthemem balsamita) is also known as Bible leaf because in Colonial times a leaf served as a bookmark in Bibles and prayer books. When drowsiness set in, the sleeper treated himself to the minty leaf to stay awake.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and Dill (Anethum graveolens) were carried to prayer meetings in Colonial times in small pouches. The seeds were used to curb the appetite. They were called "meeti