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