Did you know that many of the common herbs and spices we use today have Biblical roots?
I have always been fascinated with the historical significance of Biblical herbs and spices so often mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments. They’re living links to our past, and many of the trendy herbs and spices common to cuisines all around the world trace their roots to Biblical and Pre-Biblical times.
Even before people could write, they used herbs and spices to season and preserve their foods. The people of Bible days were herbalists out of necessity. Herbs and spices were also used in cosmetics, dyes and medicines. All households, whether rich or poor, cultivated an herb garden, and the plants were highly valued.
My own Lebanese cooking and healing heritage is rich with facts and folklore regarding herbs of Bible days.
I remember my parents telling stories of their families who immigrated from “the old country”, Lebanon. Mint, one of the tithing herbs, was carefully nurtured during the long voyage to America. We used Bible herbs and spices in everyday cooking in our traditional Lebanese household. All nine of us children learned at an early age how to distinguish oregano (the hyssop of the Bible) from marjoram, which mint was to be picked for kibbee, and how many sprigs of thyme it took for a kettle full of dolmathas. (Thyme grew wild in the Jerusalem hills).
Some of the herbs doubled as medicines, as well. Mom gave us anise tea for cramps, and babies recovering from illness were given barley water sweetened with honey and anise. Barley was a popular grain during Bible days and honey was the main sweetener. She came upon this naturally, learning from her mother holistic ways to heal. To this day my Aunt Margaret still cooks with Bible herbs and spices – and she is in her 90’s and going strong!
One of my most prized possessions is the huge ancient cast iron “spider” kettle that I inherited from my mother. She grew enough herbs for our family of 11 in that kettle. It now sits in a place of honor in my garden, and my “hobbit”/basil grows happily there. (The legend is that basil sprang up in the ground near Christ’s tomb after the resurrection). I ask the Lord to bless her as I scatter seeds on the surface, patting them into the soil with bare hands.
There is a burgeoning interest in holistic health and aromatherapy, and many herbs and spices mentioned in the Bible are included in natural remedies. There is dill, another tithing herb, for “gripe water” to soothe colicky babies; mint tea for digestion and in spritzers to refresh and cleanse the air; cilantro/coriander (analogous to Biblical manna) for removing heavy metals from the body. Flax, out of which linen was made, helps lower cholesterol and cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar. Bay (athletes were crowned with bay) shows promise in research for diabetes and heart health and is used in steam facials. You could say they’re good for body, and soul!
“Bible” Bean Salad
I adapted this from a chick pea salad daughter-in-law Jessie shared. Perfect for that July 4 gathering. Note all the Bible foods and herbs included: vinegar, olive oil, cumin, garlic (which was eaten as a vegetable during Bible times), oregano, beans, onions, and, of course, salt -remember Lot’s wife turned to salt. Healthy, too.
Go to taste on this, adding more vinegar, etc. if you like.
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or more to taste
2 teaspoons garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste (opt – go easy on these)
3 cans beans: your choice, drained and rinsed
l bunch green onions, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
Handful chopped parsley
2-4 ribs celery or more to taste, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
Whisk together dressing ingredients. Set aside while mixing salad ingredients. Pour dressing over salad. Toss gently to blend.
Rita Nader Heikenfeld, CCP, CMH, is a Certified Culinary Professional and Certfied Modern Herbalist, educator, author, founding editor of www.Abouteating.com
a popular website that showcases her many interests in healthy living.