People have been using natural remedies for thousands of years to treat health problems. Even in biblical times, there were many herbs and plants known to be effective medicinally. According to The Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, there are 55 plants mentioned in the Bible that have medicinal properties. Many of those plants are still in use today both for their health benefits and for culinary purposes.
Balm of Gilead
Balm of Gilead is mentioned multiple times in the Bible. While nowadays no one is exactly sure which plant that was back then, multiple plants currently bear that name. Populus balsamifera L. is a large deciduous tree that grows between 30-100 feet. It is found growing around streams and roadsides throughout the eastern US and Canada.
It has a straight trunk and aromatic buds. The buds can be boiled down into a balm that is used to treat sores and skin conditions. A tincture can be made to treat toothache. Because of its aspirin-like qualities, Balm of Gilead can also be used to treat pain and inflammation.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) comes from the saffron or autumn crocus and is associated with its distinctive color. Known as the most expensive spice, saffron is in fact the stamen of the flower. Each flower produces only three stamens which leads to the exorbitant price tag.
Real saffron can be identified by its distinctive color which will not fade in water, its sweet smell, slightly bitter taste, and its trumpet-like shape. Saffron is commonly used for culinary purposes such as saffron rice. Saffron has been found to be a mood enhancer as well as being effective to treat respiratory conditions.
Mint (Mentha L.) is a common herb found in many gardens. There are many varieties of this popular herb but all can be identified by the square stem and fragrant green leaves. If you pinch the leaves you should be able to smell a distinctive scent that is reminiscent of candies or toothpaste. For medicinal use, you will want to harvest the leaves, which can be used fresh or dried.
Mint makes a wonderful addition to many culinary dishes, such as salads or lamb, and is commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine. Mint is used for stomach ailments, anxiety, and as a sleep aid. The fresh or dried leaves can be brewed into a refreshing tea to calm queasy stomachs and calm nerves. It can also be distilled into an essential oil or used as a tincture. Beware that certain varieties of the mint family, such as Salvia divinorum contain powerful psychoactive.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb that is familiar for its culinary uses. The green feathery leaves are commonly referred to as cilantro, while coriander is generally used for the aromatic seed. You can identify the plant by the distinctive leaves. The leaves are lobed, fan-like, and feathery towards the bottom. The plant can grow up to two feet and produces small flowers in summer.
The flowers are tiny and range in color from white to pale lilac. The seeds are a creamy light brown color and very aromatic. Both the leaves and seeds are used in cooking while the only seeds are traditionally used medicinally.
Harvest the seeds when about half of them have reached maturity and are changing from green to a light tan. Cut the stalks of the plant and hang upside down in a warm, well-ventilated area to aid with drying. When the plants are dry in about two weeks you can place them in a paper bag and shake to release the seeds.
Consuming the seeds can aid with digestive problems such as upset stomach, and constipation. It is often brewed into a tea with other herbs.
Resembling fennel, cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is another common culinary herb that has medicinal properties. Many traditional Indian dishes feature the seeds either whole or ground into a powder. The plant has slender branched stems featuring feathery leaves. It rarely grows taller than one foot. The seeds are small, oval, and resemble caraway seeds but are lighter in color and have a more pungent flavor.
They are harvested when the seeds begin to appear but before they fall. Cut the stalks and place them upside down in a brown paper bag. The seeds will fall to the bottom. The seeds are known for calming stomach ailments and are commonly eaten in India after a meal to aid with digestion. It has generally fallen out of favor as a medicinal remedy because of the bitter flavor associated with it.
Also resembling fennel, dill (Anethum graveolens) has long feathery leaves and grows no more than two and a half feet tall. Presenting a single stalk, when the plant flowers in summer it will produce a great quantity of seed. Both the leaves and seeds are used in cooking to add a distinctive flavor that is great for pickling.
The leaves can be harvested and used fresh or dry. The seeds are best harvested when they begin to turn brown. Clip the stalks and put them upside down in a paper bag for about a week. Dill can be used to treat fever, colds, cough, bronchitis, and stomach ailments.
Mustard (Brassica) is commonly thought of as the condiment that you put on hamburgers and hot dogs but the seeds can be medicinal as well. The key to identifying members of the mustard family is that the flowers have four petals with six stamens and two are tall and two are short.
While all varieties are edible some taste better than others. The greens are eaten in salads but the seeds are used medicinally. To harvest the seed, cut the plants below the seed pods and place them upside down in a paper bag. The pods will dry and open and the seeds will fall to the bottom of the bag. Seeds can be used to make poultice which can be used to treat a variety of ailments from sore muscles to coughs.
Garlic (Allium sativum), which we know from its aromatic and spicy bulb, can grow as tall as three feet. The leaves are flat and blade-shaped approximately ½ inch to an inch in length. In summer it flowers, producing pink or purple flowers. To harvest you must dig the entire plant from the ground as it is the bulb that we use.
A common culinary ingredient, garlic is used to treat heart and cardiovascular-related problems. It is also known to boost the immune system so it can help prevent colds.
Myrtle (Myrtus) is an evergreen shrub that can grow between 16-24 feet. It has aromatic white flowers in summer that produce purplish-black edible berries. While it is possible to eat myrtle, it is rarely consumed nowadays.
The aromatic leaves are harvested and can be used dry in cooking as a substitute for bay leaves.
Fresh leaves are distilled into an essential oil or used to create an oil tincture. It can be used to treat coughs and respiratory ailments, skin conditions, and bladder problems.
A member of the mint family, hyssop (Hyssopus Officinalis) is an evergreen herb that is commonly found in gardens. The plant grows to a height of about three feet and has aromatic leaves and flowers.
The violet, pink or white flowers grow together in clusters and the leaves are about an inch to an inch and a half. While it can be eaten it is no longer commonly used as a culinary herb. Primarily brewed as a tea, hyssop can be used to treat colds, coughs, and respiratory conditions.
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