Herbs of the Bible

Two millennia of healing wisdom


| November/December 1999



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I wonder from time to time what our Buddhist, Muslim, or Jewish brethren, among others, think of the hoopla as Christians face a new millennium. Other religions and societies are into their third, fourth, or even fifth millennia. Regardless, the new millennium is an opportunity for reflection and anticipation: What have we done to the earth, to its flora and fauna? How accurately have we measured progress in diet, medicine, and health care?

As we move into the third Christian millennium, we may be ready to rekindle a medical as well as spiritual explanation of the herbs and plants that have been with us for as many as six millennia.

The Bible mentions 128 plants that were part of everyday life in ancient Israel and its Mediterranean neighbors. These plants include almonds, apples, black mustard, cucumber, grapes, mandrake, nettle, poppy, and wormwood.

The migratory patterns of herbs and plants follow those of the people who ­relied on them. The Levant—which ­stretches in a crescent around the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to the Sinai Peninsula and includes modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel—marks the most likely “checkpoint” through which population groups passed as they migrated. As they moved, people carried cuttings, seeds, or saplings of plants and herbs necessary for their well-being or in accordance with God’s directives. Thus, use of the medicinal plants of the area combines the healing wisdom of early Arabs, Hebrews, Copts, and Muslims.

Here are a handful of these plants and a look at their roles in personal beauty, hygiene, ritual, ceremony, and the treatment of disease—many of which still apply today.

Aloe (Aloe Vera)
—John 19:39–40

Used for: Burns, constipation, cancer, skin irritations





elderberry, echinacea, bee hive

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