Biblical Herbs
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Brenda Wood
Posted on: August 22, 1998

I have been ask to give a presentation to a group of women about herbs used during biblical times. What I would like to do is to contrast how and why they were used during biblical times with the way we use them today.

I have purchased a couple of books and used the net but still not getting some fun information like I would like to use. For example the herbs that women used during that time for bathing or covering their body to attract men. Why herbs were used for food and body both. I know some herbs and spices were used instead of money or gold etc.

Any suggestions?

If I were preparing myself for a presentation on the topic I would start with two books on my bookshelf. One is Eleanor Anthony King’s "Bible Plants for American Gardens" (available from Richters). Although, it may not provide the sort of "fun" information you are looking for – King is somewhat humourless in her presentation – it serves to bring together all the herbs and other plants that were mentioned in the Bible. It brings in some of the background, and discusses how the same plants are grown and used today. For example, about mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), also known as "love-apple", King writes: "The mandrake leads us back to the early days of Jacob, and the jealousy between his wives, Rachel and Leah. Rachel was best loved, but barren; Leah had sons. Leah’s son Rueben had been gathering mandrakes in the field, and Rachel asked that she might have them (Gen. 30:14-16). The Bible story tells us only of Rachel’s request for the mandrakes; it does not say that Rachel believed in their magic qualities, although in those days the plant was held by the heathen to have magic powers."

The other book is the Greek herbal of Discorides which was compiled in the first century A.D. The version I have is the one edited by Robert T. Gunther and published by Hafner Publishing (London and New York) in 1968. There are hundreds of herbs described, all in a rather charming old English. For example, of sweet marjoram, Dioscorides writes that a "potion of it is milde, whence it is given to such are squeamish & bad-stomached & unsavoury belchers..." Now that’s not a use particular to women, but Dioscorides also says that marjoram is "profitable" drunk with vinegar and wine, and that it will "expell also ye menstrua."

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