Every region has its set of sacred plants. Ancient societies lived in harmony with nature. Plants were a source of food, medicine, and shelter. Religious and other texts contain references to ecology, trees, and animals, as the worship of gods was associated with nature and trees. Traditions and folklore developed around nature, and some sacred plants were identified by society.
Ancient civilizations and texts of all three religions of the Biblical lands (Christianity, Jewish, and Islam) have attributed immense importance to trees, which were valued for food, animal feed, oil, fuel, and construction. This section describes seven sacred trees mentioned in the Bible: cedar, date palm, sycamore, olive, pomegranate, willow, and myrtle. Ancient Egyptians associated trees with the afterlife and with their popular deities. For example, Horus was associated with acacia. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions that two sycamores, or nehet, trees stood at the eastern gate of heaven from where the sun god Ra emerged each morning. The tree is a manifestation of the goddess Nut, Isis, and Hathor. Sycamore trees were often planted in cemeteries, and coffins made from sycamore wood helped lead the dead person to the mother tree goddess.
Myrrh trees were also sacred and were planted on the terraces of the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari (c. 1480 BC). This temple is dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amon Ra and can still be seen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. A date palm branch symbolized the god Heh, who represented eternity. The willow was considered sacred to the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris. Just as Hindu tradition in India claims that the Hindu gods sought shelter in Ficus religiosa, ancient Egyptian tradition claims that a willow sheltered Osiris’s body after he was killed. His body was believed to be dismembered and buried in tombs, where willow grew throughout Egypt.
In ancient Greece, the oak tree was sacred to Zeus, and the myrtle tree to Aphrodite. A sacred olive tree is said to have stood in the Pandrosium near the Erechtheum Temple (421–405 BC) on the Acropolis. Ancient Greek literature contains multiple references to sacred groves. In Greek myths, the spirits of trees are personified in female form. In ancient Rome, a fig tree sacred to Romulus grew near the Forum, along with multiple sacred groves throughout the city.
It is only natural that India, a sunny and hot country for most of the year, considers large trees with dense foliage sacred. Peepal and banyan (Ficus religiosa and Ficus benghalensis) as sacred trees. Mango (Mangifera indica) is a large tree with dense foliage and yields luscious fruit, as is Bel-Aegle marmelos. Saraca indica, commonly known as Ashoka, has beautiful showy red flowers and is a sacred tree for the Hindus. In ancient Hindu texts, many other herbs and shrubs possessing medicinal or aromatic properties have also been declared sacred plants.
The earliest reference to the worship of trees in India goes back to the Indus Valley Civilization (roughly 2600-1800 BC). Seals from that era show people praying to a peepal tree. these Vedic people produced work. These include the Upanishads, the Upvedas like Ayurveda, epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, and religious texts like Bhagwad Gita.
Many of these works allude to trees and plants. Manu, an early Hindu architect, has stated that trees are like humans and feel pleasure and pain. Various Indian sages and philosophers have sung eulogies to trees.
Vedas, regarded as one of the holiest scriptures of the Hindus, was scripted by the Aryans. These Vedic people produced a whole body of philosophical and religious work. These include the Upanishads, the Upvedas like Ayurveda, epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, and religious texts like Bhagwad Gita.
Many of these works allude to sacred trees and plants. Manu, an early Hindu architect, has stated that trees are like humans and feel pleasure and pain. Various Indian sages and philosophers have sung eulogies to trees.
Human society worldwide has had a strong association with nature, as evidenced by the Biblical references to the Garden of Eden and those to plants and herbs in the Vedas. The cultural interaction between the Vedic and, before them, the Indus Valley Civilization and the people of Greece, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, and Rome influenced the thinking of the time.
There is much more to sacred plants and trees. read the chapter dedicated to these plants here.