Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses

Learn about the modern uses of herbs mentioned in the Bible.

| December/January 2009

  • From biblical times to the present, aloes have been giants among herbs and herbal medicine.
  • Studies show that milk thistle can regenerate damaged liver cells.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke
  • Dukes Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible by James A. Duke, Ph.D. with Peggy-Ann K. Duke and Judith L. duCellier (CRC, 2007, $89.95) is available at your local bookseller or at
  • The stems and leaves of the myrrh plant were used to prepare perfume and incense, a practice that continues in Eastern churches today.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke
  • Frankincense is an important ingredient in incense and is also frequently used in perfumes, holy ointments and fumigants.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke
  • Using garlic to increase virility may be more than just an interesting bit of folklore or ritual.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke
  • The essential oil of turmeric has shown anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory activity.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke
  • Herbs of the Bible by James Duke, Ph.D. (Wendell Whitman Co., 2007, $39.95) is available at your local bookseller or at
  • Medicinally, flaxseeds were once prescribed as a demulcent, emollient and laxative.
    Illustration by Peggy Kessler Duke

As even a casual reader of the Holy Bible might observe, the history of our spiritual ancestors—Jewish, Muslim and Christian—is one of almost constant motion—migrating and uprooting, shifting from one part of the geography to another. Indeed, their goings and returnings provide an incessant rhythm to biblical tales.  Invariably, plants accompanied the migration and took root along the way. 

7 Biblical Plants

• Aloe
• Flax
• Frankincense
• Garlic
• Myrrh
• Milk thistle
• Turmeric

Plants of the Bible

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 descriptions of a handful of these plants and their roles in personal beauty, hygiene, ritual, ceremony and the treatment of disease. As with the wisdom of the scriptures in which they’re mentioned, the usefulness and beauty of these plants holds even into the present day.

James A. Duke, Ph.D., is one of the world’s foremost authorities on botanical medicine. He is author of  The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997) and Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary (CRC, 1994). 

Adapted with permission from Herbs of the Bible: 2,000 Years of Plant Medicine by James A. Duke, Ph.D. 

12/26/2017 11:23:11 PM

Is there an ancient herb called: wolfs or wolves breath, maybe associated with peppermint?

12/26/2017 11:23:09 PM

Is there an ancient herb called: wolfs or wolves breath? Possible associated in some way with peppermint?

10/13/2017 2:43:56 AM

I use to manage a vitamin shoppe.BUT im sure that GOD gave man what he needed to sustain himself..... it's sad that man has become greedy and the AMERICAN PHARMACIES are destroying people with the greed.... IF YOU TRY BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE

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