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Herbs of the Bible

Image by Eszter Miller from Pixabay

The previous post was about bitter herbs of the Bible. This is post is about Herbs of the Bible. They include dill, marjoram, and mint among others. I wanted to take the time during Lent to learn where these herbs are referenced in Scripture.

Dill


According to Duke’s Medicinal Herbs of the Bible, dill is named shiveth or in Arabic sabth and was grown by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Today we use dill liberally in pickles whether they are fermented or in vinegar.
Dill was a tithing herb used by ancients for flavoring and in medicine.
References to dill in Scripture—
Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you Hypocrites? You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.”
Lk 11:42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs,”

Coriander

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) Zohary did not believe that the coriander we use today was the coriander spoken of in the Bible, because the plant does not grow in the desert.
References to coriander in Scripture—
Nu 11:7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin.
Ex 16:31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made of honey.

Fennel/caraway

The plant translated “caraway” in the NIV, “fitches” in the KJV and “dill” in JND is actually a plant known as black cummin, Nigella sativa, and no relation to the well known herb, cummin. In some notes, cumin is listed as a tithing herb. It is native to the Mediterranean region since the days of Isaiah.

Fennel is not listed in Duke’s Medicinal Herbs of the Bible 3rd version. In the NIV version of the American Woman’s Bible, the section on herbs of the bible has fennel listed. I am thinking that the fennel was supposed to be caraway. From that text, “The aromatic hot-tasking herbal seeds were an Eastern substitute for black pepper. The spicy oil from the seeds increased the appetite and saliva flow.” Caraway and fennel are of the same family, can sort of be used interchangeably but not always. Caraway is more earthy, and when heated to bring out the flavor, spicier.

References in Scripture—

Isa 28:25-27  “When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? 

Marjoram/hyssop

While researching for this blog, I read that Marjoram known to the Israelites as sheep’s sorrel. That is not true. Sheep’s sorrel is (Rumex acetosella). It is accepted that this species (Organum syriacum) is indeed the hyssop mentioned in the Bible. Hyssop was used to purify the Alter in the Temple, to purify lepers, etc.

Our forefathers were familiar with it as an herb and as food, as a ritual plant and as a medicinal plant. Besides being the most common herb, Marjoram (hyssop) was also used during antiquity as a disinfectant: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51: 7). It was used for disinfecting the Alter, as well as anyone who touched a leper. The expression “from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall” (1 Kings 5: 13) caused many to erroneously think that the hyssop is the smallest of plants, and mosses were called hyssop in the past. However, this is actually a reference to the name of the smallest tree, and hyssop is considered a tree for this purpose, since its stems from previous seasons are indeed lignified. The Torah mentions different aspects of uses for hyssop: on Passover in Egypt (Exodus 12: 22), in purifying the leper (Leviticus 14: 4), in the burning of the red heifer (Numbers 19: 6), and for sprinkling on a dead person (Numbers 19: 18).1

References in Scripture—
Ex 12:21-22 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin.
Nu 19:6,18 The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.
Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent, and all the furnishings and the people who were there.
1Ki 4:33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls.
Ps 51:7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

Mint

Probably horsemint, used for cooking, medicine and worship It was often strewn in synagogues to reduce bad odors.
Reference in Scripture—
Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you Hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.”
Lk 11:42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs,”

Aloes

While John 19 describes ancient burial practices, it is far more than that. Here we have two men who boldly identified themselves with what would be viewed as a failed leader. At one time they may have feared man, but not now. Their lives were inalterably changed by Jesus. As a final act of devotion, they boldly request the battered body of Jesus and tenderly prepare it for burial.
The plant called aloe here is unique in the Scripture. It is not the aloe mentioned in Psalm 45:8 and elsewhere in the Old Testament which is probably derived from an Asian tree. The New Testament aloe is Aloe barbadense, an interesting plant no longer known from nature. Aloe is a low growing perennial with thick, fleshy leaves filled with a gelatinous material that was used as an embalming fluid in Egypt. Today, the extract of aloe is used as a balm for burns and as a skin ointment.
The amount of aloes would be more than adequate for embalming. With no fragrance of its own, mixed with the myrrh aloe would enhance and retain fragrance. 2

Horseradish


Page 72 (Duke) “it seems to be the most important Passover herb and is mentioned in the Torah. Uses for the roots and young leaves, eaten as spice, pickle, potherb or salad ingredient. Sliced roots cooked and eaten like turnips.

Frankincense/Myrrh

Frankincense, a gum resin used in ceremonies, symbolizing holiness.

Reference in Scripture–
Ex 30:34 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices-gum resin, onycha and galbanum-and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.”
Mt 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Myrrh, a gum resin, and a symbol of Christ’s future suffering.

Reference in Scripture–

Mt 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Ps 45:8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh, aloes and cassia;

SS 3:6 Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense, made from all the spices of the merchant?

SS 4:14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.

Crystal

  1. Lytton John Musselman, Old Dominion University Bible Plants Site, Hyssop, www.odu.edu/lmusselman/plant/bible.
  2. Lytton John Musselman, Old Dominion University Bible Plants Site, Aloe, www.odu.edu/lmusselman/plant/bible.
  3. James A. Duke, Peggy Ann K. Duke, Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible, CRC Press, 2008, pg. 27.

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