“that same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs”Ex 12:8
Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay
Throughout the Bible the term bitter herbs caught my eye…what kind of bitter herbs? I was curious to know more. Ancient Mesopotamia, which includes Iraq, eastern Syria and southeastern Turkey today and ancient Egypt have totally different species of plants. Researchers have tried to list the medicinal plants of the Bible, which has many discrepancies due to species, language and time.
Zochar Amar, professor in the Department of Land of Israel Studies has done extensive research on valid plant names, narrowing the list down to 75 medicinal plant names. His work is still ongoing due to the language barrier between Hebrew and Aramaic terminology of plants.
“This article cites problems of working with identification and misunderstandings in the original Hebrew version. The old translators of the Bible, e.g., King James version (1611) and others, were not familiar with the original Hebrew, nor with the flora of the Holy Land. So, sometimes they mentioned names from their local floras; this might have been done deliberately to make plants more familiar to their own readers.” (1)
Danfi, A. Bock, B. 2019. Medicinal plants of the Bible–revisited. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethomedicine.
From McClintock & Strong, “Biblical Cyclopedia”. “Bitter herb-occurs two places in scripture: Ex 12:8. For Moses commanded the Jews to eat the lamb of Passover with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The second Passover in the wilderness of Sinai Nu 9:11. It is far more probable that scripture denotes whatever bitter herbs were obtainable in the place where the Passover was eaten. The first directions were in Egypt and the second in Palestine which would have different “bitter herbs”.
“but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”Nu 9:11
5 types of bitter herbs
- 1. Wild lettuce
- 2. Endives
- 3. Garden endive, some say horehound, others tansy, others tops of horseradish, others thistle.
- 4. Nettle, but some say chamomile.
- 5. Coriander, others say dandelion.
If we look at the list of 5 bitter herbs above: Wild lettuce, endive, garden endive, nettle and coriander, how were they eaten? We know fresh nettles sting, so it is highly doubtful that they were eaten fresh. Same is to be said for thistle, and chicory.
chicory, called the “liver’s friend” by the Egyptians and consumed in large amounts. It was thought to purify the blood and liver.
From the NKJV American Women’s Bible: the list of bitter herbs were Chicory, dandelion, endive, lettuce, sorrel, and watercress.
In the scripture all the bitter herbs listed with the exception of watercress, are referenced in Ex 12:8, Nu 9:11 as bitter herbs. Endive, a bitter tasting tall, leafy plant, is also referenced in Ge 2:5 as a plant. Endive is related to chicory and used as salad greens.
Dandelion leaves were used as a vegetable and the root was used for making medicine. Lettuce was a weedy, bitter-tasting plant with yellow flower heads. Sorrel, known to the Israelites as sheeps’ sorrel, has a sharp, bitter taste that combined well with other greens to improve their flavor.
Watercress was used for ‘salads’ and for medicinal purposes. It was high in vitamins and iron. Dt 32:2 as ‘new grass’.
“Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.Dt 32:2
So, as you can see, there are many differences of opinion, points of view and just plain differences in types of information on bitter herbs, herbs, medicinal herbs and flowers of the Bible.
Next blog is on Herbs of the Bible, be sure to check it out.