Healing herbs have been in use since the earliest of times. There are extensive references to herbs in religious texts. Rock paintings in France, India, and other parts show prehistoric humans interacting with nature. These paintings from the Stone Age date from 30000 years ago in Africa to 3300 BC (the start of the Bronze Age) in eastern Asia. They show wood, nuts, leaves, berries, bark, and seeds as sources of nutrition, medicine, shelter, energy, entertainment, and beauty. They indicate that humans learned to use particular plants to enhance their food and health. Pottery from 6,000 years ago found in Denmark, and Germany shows residues of garlic mustard, fish, and meat (Saul et al., 2013). The dyes used in the rock paintings in Bhimbetka paintings in India are of plant origin and depict the life and times of people across millennia.
The Bible, Quran, Talmud, and other religious texts reference healing herbs, plants, and trees. Herbs were used as sources of food, incense, flavor, medicine, and shelter. The following verse from the Bible illustrates their importance: “The trees that are fed and nourished by the water that flows from the sanctuary have nourishing and healing properties. And by the river on its bank, on one side and the other will grow all [kinds of] trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
Hebrews 6:7, “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God,” demonstrates society’s value on vegetation. The Book of Jubilee 10:12–13 states, “As we explained to Noah all the medicines of their diseases, together with their seductions, how he might heal them with herbs of the earth. And Noah wrote down everything in a book as we instructed him concerning every kind of medicine. Thus the evil spirits were precluded from (hurting) the sons of Noah.” Sirach 38:4–5 and 7–8 state, “The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them. Was not water made sweet with a tree so that its power might be known? … By them, the physician heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes a mixture from them.”
When Berodach Baladan, son of the King of Babylon, visited Hezekiah, King of Judah (c. 715–687 BC), among his most valuable possessions were healing herbs, spices, gold, and silver (2 Kings 20:12–14). A handful of cardamom was worth as much as a poor man’s yearly wage, and enslaved people were bought and sold for a few cups of peppercorns. Around 1000 BC, Queen Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem to offer him “120 measures of gold, many spices, and precious stones.” (1 Kings 10.)
The Talmudic literature mentions approximately 70 plants used in food, spices, and medicine. Olives, dates, pomegranates, and quinces were popular fruits. Garlic, cumin, fennel flower, beet, and others were eaten as vegetables and spices. Hyssop (Majorana syriaca) was used to treat intestinal worms (Shab 109 b), and beet (Beta vulgaris) was believed to have several medicinal properties, such as care of the eyes and bowels (Shab 133 a–f).
The Quran also makes many references to plants, herbs, and trees. Verse 61 of Surah Baqarah, for instance, states, “O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth its green herbs, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, and onions from the earth.” Extensive references to herbs are seen in religious texts across religions.
Book link: Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants