Vegetables, Herbs and Spices of the
When we think of religious holidays, we think of the Bible.
The Bible is a collection of sacred writings. It is a history
of mankind from the beginning. Intertwined in this history are
horticultural phenomenon which we are still experiencing today.
The need for a horticulturist became apparent early in this
history of the world --- on the third day as a matter of fact.
Genesis 1:11 12 explains that:
" 11. God said, Let the earth bring forth
grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit
after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and
it was so.
12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed
after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was
in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13. And the evening and morning were the third day."
It is also significant that God felt man belonged in a garden.
Genesis 2:7 8 recounts that "the Lord God formed man of
the. dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God
planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he put the man whom
he had formed." Some believe that Genesis 1:29 * "God
said, 'Behold, I give you every seed bearing plant that is upon
all the earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; they
shall be yours for food'" -- indicates that man was originally
intended to be a vegetarian.
In fact, man may have been created to be a gardener. According
to Genesis 2:15, "The Lord God took the man, and put him
into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. If this
interpretation is valid, then women owe a debt of gratitude
to gardening. It seems that Adam was having problems in Genesis
2:18, "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make an appropriate helper for him."
So woman was created!
Not much is mentioned in the Bible about the vegetables with
which we are accustomed. This is because vegetables have only
recently become "domesticated," i.e., many of the
most common vegetables were discovered by explorers of the New
World. Vegetables which are mentioned in the Bible include herbs
of all kinds, mandrakes (a narcotic, short stemmed solanaceous
herb, Mandragora officinarum, with a fleshy root), cucumbers,
melons, gourds, beans, and corn. The urge for fresh vegetables
caused considerable discontent among the children of Israel
as they complained to Moses in Numbers 11:5 6, "We remember
the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and
the melons, and the leeks, and the melons, and the garlic. But
now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside
the manna, before our eyes." It seems that manna from heaven
could not replace the enjoyment of fresh vegetables! In Jonah
4: 6 8, Jonah encountered a serious lesson in vegetables, pest
control which we still experience today. The verses read:
"*6. And the Lord God prepared a gourd,
and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow
over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding
glad of the gourd.
" 7. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the
next day, and it smote the gourd that is withered.
" 8. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that
God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the
head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die,
and said, It is better for me to die than to live."
Sound familiar to the squash vine borer?
Insect control could have presented quite a problem in Biblical
times since modern pesticides were not available. Although the
thought of organically produced, non*contaminated food may sound
like an ideal situation to many, it may have meant that the
majority of vegetables produced could not be eaten. In accordance
with Genesis 1:29 (quoted above), all vegetables and fruits
are kosher. Not only that, they are gender less and may be served
with either milk or meat foods. The only thing to worry about
is that insects haven't invaded the food, since food invaded
by insects could not be eaten. For further elucidation, see
A Guide to the Jewish Dietary Laws by Rabbi Dr. Y. Kemelman.
HERBS AND SPICES
Name: Coriandrum sativum, or Cilantro. The seeds are called
coriander. In Thai., cilantro is called pak chee.
Bible Verse: Exodus 16:12-35 (also Numbers 11: 7)
Coriander has been used by people for thousands of years and
has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back 3000 years.
The Hebrews of biblical times used cilantro as the bitter herb
in the Passover meal.
The Roman soldiers under the reign of Julius Caesar took coriander
with them, using it as a meat preservative and to flavor food.
. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who used it in
cookery and medicine, and was widely used in English cookery
until the Renaissance, when the new exotic spices appeared.
Among ancient doctors, coriander was known to Hippocratic, and
to Pliny who called it Coriandrum for its 'buggy' smell, coris
being a bug; or perhaps because the young seed resembles Cimex
lectularius, the European bed-bug.
Coriander is also mentioned in The Tales of the Arabian Nights.
Sugarplums as referred to in the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy,
were actually a treat made of sugar coated coriander.
Coriander was introduced into the Americas around 1670 and was
one of the first herbs grown by the colonists. (Spanish conquistadors
introduced it to Mexico and Peru.)
The Chinese used the herb in love potions believing it provided
immortality. Coriander is one of the herbs thought to have aphrodisiac
This herb was believed to have a variety of medicinal uses and
was thought to alleviate abdominal pains.
Coriander seed oil is strongly antibacterial against several
organisms and can be used as a fungicide.
The seed is an aromatic stimulant, a carminative (remedial in
flatulence), an appetizer and a digestant stimulating the stomach
Coriander seeds are considered to have cholesterol lowering
A poultice of Coriander seed can be applied externally to relieve
painful joints and rheumatism.
One source (Herbs & Herb Gardening by Jessica Houdret) said
the seeds can be mixed with violets for a remedy for a hangover.
Today the only medicinal use of coriander is as flavoring for
certain prescription medicines to mask their taste and odor.
Used in curry powders, where it is the bulkiest constituent.
The seeds can be likewise used in stews and soups.
They blend well with smoked meats and game and feature in traditional
English black pudding recipes and Italian mortadella sausage.
Coriander is an ingredient of garam masala, pickling spices
and pudding spices and is used in cakes, breads and other baked
I've found coriander in shrimp boil.
Sugared comfits made from the seeds are a traditional sweetmeat
and breath sweetener.
Coriander is a characteristic of Arab cookery, being common
with lamb, kid and meat stuffings. Taklia, a popular Arab spice
mixture, is coriander and garlic crushed and fried.
Coriander with cumin is a common combination and features in
falafel and in the Egyptian appetizer dukka, which consists
of those spices plus sesame seeds, hazelnuts, salt and pepper,
roasted and crushed.
Coriander goes well with ham and pork, especially when orange
It enhances fish dishes and, with other spices, may form a delicious
coating for spiced fish or chicken, rubbed into the scored flesh
Try frying a few seeds with sausages to add an unusual flavor.
Coriander complements chili and is included in many chili recipes,
such as harissa, the hot North African red pepper sauce.
It may be added to cream or cottage cheese.
The leaves are always used fresh. They feature in Spanish, Middle
Eastern, Indian, Oriental and South American cookery. They are
sprinkled like parsley on cooked dishes, minced or puréed
in sauces, soups and curries, especially bhuna. Both seeds and
leaves can be used in salads.
In Thailand the root of the coriander plant is used to flavor
meats and curries
Name: Tamarisk Manna (Tamarix mannifera)
Country of Origin: Egypt's Sinai Desert and Iraqi Kurdistan
The puncture of plant lice on the slender branches and leaves
form honey-like drops that are solidified during the cool morning
One books notes that the Sinai produces about 500 pounds of
tamarisk manna/ year (sold by Bedouin to tourists)
Name: Camel's Thorn Manna (Alhagi Camelorum)
Country of Origin: Native to Egypt and Syria
Description: A low-lying shrub whose leaves and stems exude
a sweetish gum, primarily in liquid form.
Name: Lichen (Lecanora esculenta) Similar to reindeer lichen.
Country of Origin: Algeria, Turkey, Iran
Description: Throughout history, peasants of Persia have survived
by eating this rock lichen.
The flaky foodstuff is blown off the rocks in small patches
by wind, often accumulating under shrubs or in crevices.
It is usually ground and mixed with other meal to make bread.
Name: Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus)
Country of Origin: Indigenous to the Mediterranean coast, but
mostly cultivated in Sicily.
This type of manna comes from the South European Flowering Ash
Pieces of bark, no bigger than three inches, are scraped off
the tree in September and October.
The pale yellow flakes are mixed with water and are still used
today as a children's laxative
Description: Flowers: Fresh The flowers have
a pineapple scent. A chemical analysis reveals that this type
of manna contains a mixture of three basic sugars with pectin.
One who has wandered with nomads in the desert knows that sweetness
is their highest culinary dream. At the time in which the Israelites
wandered in the desert, neither sugar beets nor sugar cane was
known. Sweet dates had only a limited productivity and may have
been unknown or almost unknown in the deserts. Therefore, the
sudden discovery of a source of pure and attractive sweetness
would have been an exciting event.
Uses: The whole plant is diaphoretic, diuretic,
expectorant and laxative.
An oil from the leaves is used in the treatment of rheumatism
The flowers are used in the treatment of piles
The manna fell for the first time while the Israelites were
in the desert of Sin, six weeks after their departure from Egypt,
in answer to their murmurs over the privations of desert life
(Ex., 16, 1 sq.) and thenceforth fell daily, except on the Sabbath,
till they arrived at Galgal in the plain of Jericho (Jos..,
v, 12). During these years the manna was their chief but not
their only article of diet. Their herds furnished them some
milk and meat; they had oil and flour, at least in small quantities,
and at times purchased provisions from neighboring peoples (Lev.,
ii, sq.; xvii, 1 sq.; Deut., ii, 6, 28). The manna had to be
gathered in the morning, as the heat of the sun melted it. The
quantity to be collected was limited to a gomor (omer, between
six and seven pints) per person; but on the eve of the Sabbath
a double portion was gathered. When kept over night it putrefied
and bred worms, except the portion which was reserved for the
Sabbath. Though it was probably eatable in the natural state,
it was usually ground in a mill or beaten in a mortar and then
boiled and made into cakes. As a reminder to future generations,
a vessel filled with manna was placed near the Ark of the Covenant.
The name is connected with the exclamation "Man hu",
which the Israelites uttered on first seeing it. This expression
since the time of the Septuagint is generally translated "What
is this?", though it should more probably be translated
"Is this manna?", or "It is manna". A substance
named mannu was known in Egypt at that time, and the resemblance
of the newly fallen food to this substance would naturally call
forth the exclamation and suggest the name.
Many scholars have identified the Biblical manna with the juice
exuded by a variety of Tamarix gallica (Tamarix mannifera) when
it is pricked by an insect (Coccus manniparus), and known to
the Arabs as mann es-sama, "gift of heaven" or "heavenly
manna". But although manna in several respects answers
the description of the manna of the Bible, it lacks some of
its distinctive qualities. It cannot be ground or beaten in
a mortar, nor can it be boiled and made into cakes. It does
not decay and breed worms, but keeps indefinitely after it is
collected. Besides, being almost pure sugar, it could hardly
form the chief nourishment of a people for forty years. But
even if the identify were certain, the phenomenon of its fall,
as recorded in Exodus, could not be explained except by a miracle.
For, although the tamarisk was probably more plentiful in the
days of the Exodus than it is now, it could not have furnished
the large quantity of manna daily required by the Israelites.
Moreover, the tamarisk manna exudes only at a certain season,
whereas the Biblical manna fell throughout the year; it exudes
every day during its season, while the Biblical manna did not
fall on the Sabbath. Most of these objections apply also to
the juice exuded by the Camel's Thorn (Alhagi Camelorum), which
is sometimes considered identical with Biblical manna.
Others think they have found the true manna in a lichen, Lenora
esculenta (also known as Spharothallia esculenta), met with
in Western Asia and North Africa. It easily scales off, and
being carried away by the wind sometimes falls in the form of
a rain. In times of famine it is ground and mixed with other
substances to make a kind of bread. But this lichen is dry and
insipid, and possesses little nutritive value. The regular fall
in this case, too, would be miraculous. The manna may, indeed,
have been a natural substance, but we must admit a miracle at
least in the manner in which it was supplied. For not only does
the phenomenon resist all natural explanation, but the account
of Exodus, as well as the designation "bread from heaven",
"bread of angels", i.e., sent by the ministry of angels
(Ps. lxxvii, 24, 25; Wisd., xvi, 20), plainly represents it
Christ uses the manna as the type and symbol of the Eucharistic
food, which is true "bread from heaven":, and "bread
of life", i.e., life-giving bread, in a far higher sense
than the manna of old (John, vi). St. Paul in calling the manna
"spiritual food" (I Cor., x, 3), alludes to its symbolical
significance with regard to the Eucharist as much as to its
miraculous character. Hence the manna has always been a common
Eucharistic symbol in Christian art and liturgy. In Apoc., ii,
17, the manna stands as the symbol of the happiness of heaven.
Name: Biblically probably Origanum Maru) (probably not Septuagint
Bible Verse: Exodus 12:21-22
Show bag of hyssop leaves.
The leaves have a slightly bitter minty flavor/flavor and can
be added to soups, salads or meats, although should be used
sparingly as the flavor/flavor is very strong. Hyssop also has
medicinal properties which are listed as including expectorant,
carminative, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, promotes sweating,
anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, antispasmodic.
Note: Hyssop also has uses in the garden, it is said to be a
good companion plant to cabbage, partly because it will lure
away the Cabbage White butterfly. However hyssop is said to
be antagonistic to radishes, and they should not be grown nearby.
Hyssop also attracts bees and butterflies, thus has a place
in the wild garden as well as being useful in controlling pests
and encouraging pollination without the use of unnatural methods.
Hyssop is also used as an ingredient in eau de Cologne, and
in the liqueur Chartreuse (one of the 130 herbs in it).
Moses is represented as bidding the elders of Israel to take
a bunch of hyssop and to sprinkle with it the blood of the paschal
lamb upon the lintel and the side posts of the doors of their
In the wilderness hyssop was also ready at hand, as can be inferred
from Ex.24: 8, completed by Heb. 9: 19, according to which Israel's
great lawgiver sprinkled the Hebrews with hyssop dipped in the
blood of victims, at the sealing of the old covenant between
Yahweh and His people.
The references to hyssop contained in the Mosaic ritual show
clearly that it was a common plant in the peninsula of Sinai
and in the land of Chanaan, and disclose its principal uses
among the Hebrews. Thus, it is with hyssop that the blood of
a bird offered in sacrifice is to be sprinkled for the cleansing
of a man or a house affected with leprosy (Lev. 14: 4-7, 49-51);
It is with it, too, that the sprinkling of the water of purification
must be made at the cleansing of a tent, a person, or a vessel
polluted by the touch of a dead body (Num.19: 8).
Besides being thus used as an instrument in the act of sprinkling,
hyssop was employed as one of the elements to be burned in the
preparation of the water of purification itself (Num.19: 6).
Note: It is believed that the reed or rod used to raise the
sponge of vinegar water to Jesus was actually Hyssop.
1. The Cross might have been shorter than we normally think.
2. I see some symbolism in this possibility of the reed being
Name: Black Mustard or Brassica nigra Some think Sinapis orientalis
is the biblical mustard.
Bible verse: Matthew 13: 31-32; Matthew 17:20; Mark 4: 31-32;
Luke 13:19; Luke 17:6
Mustard seeds are from the mustard plant, which is a cruciferous
vegetable related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
While there are approximately forty different varieties of mustard
plants, there are three principal types used to make mustard
seeds: black mustard (Brassica nigra), white mustard (Brassica
alba) and brown mustard (Brassica juncea).
Black mustard seeds have the most pungent taste, while white
mustard seeds, which are actually yellow in color, are the most
mild and are the ones used to make American yellow mustard.
Brown mustard, which is actually dark yellow in color, has a
pungent acrid taste and is the type used to make Dijon mustard.
Mustard also yields an oil similar to colza oil.
Medical: Shown to help reduce the severity of asthma, decrease
some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and help prevent
cancer; helps to lower high blood pressure, to restore normal
sleep patterns in women having difficulty with the symptoms
of menopause, to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, and
to prevent heart attack in patients suffering from atherosclerosis
or diabetic heart disease; seeds also qualified as a very good
source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as a good source of iron,
calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, protein, niacin and dietary
Brassica nigra is now an annual garden herb, but in former days
it grew wild in the fields of Palestine
The Jews sowed and cultivated it in their fields and not in
their gardens (Mt 13.31*) probably for the oil.
Matthew 17:20 In our day the seeds of mustard
are not considered to be the smallest of all seeds (a distinction
held by the orchid). But in the days of Jesus the smallest quantity
of something was proverbially compared with 'a mustard seed'
Also Luke 17:6
Show seeds for mustard and epazote.
The mustard plant does not usually grow as tall as a tree, but
travelers relate that they have passed through mustard fields
in which all the plants exceeded the height of a man, and where
birds were actually sheltering in the 'branches'. The stem of
the mustard plant may be as thick as a man's arm. The description
of it as a 'tree' in the parable is, therefore, not misleading.
They are normally not more than 3-4 feet tall but plants have
been found 10-15 feet tall with a main stem as thick as a man's
Although they are only annual plants, their stems and branches
in autumn become hard and rigid and of quite sufficient strength
to bear the weight of small birds
Some commentator have suggested that the seed mentioned in the
parable was not that of the black mustard, but of a different
plant, Salvadora persica. But this is found in the valleys of
the Jordan river, not in the fields. Moreover, its seeds are
too large to fit the description given in the Gospels.
Name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Exodus 30:23 as one of the component parts of
the holy anointing oil, which Moses was commanded to prepare
- in Proverbs 7:17 as a perfume for the bed.
Revelation 18:13 it is enumerated among the merchandise of the
Description: Over 100 species of cinnamon trees.
It is actually the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree that
can grow to a height of 35 feet. The branches of 3-year old
trees are removed and vertical slices are made down both sides
of each branch. The bark is peeled off in half sections and
left to dry. After a few days, the outer bark is then scraped
away. As any moisture remaining in the inner bark evaporates
completely, the pieces curl inward, forming a tubular "quill."
In China, recorded use goes as far back as 2800 BC.
Because of its preservative and antiseptic qualities, Egyptians
mixed cinnamon into their embalming powder.
Asians have burned cinnamon as incense in temple ceremonies
In Biblical times, it was commonly listed as an ingredient in
oils used to anoint the body. It was used in the combination
of ingredients used to make a holy anointing oil for the tabernacle.
The ointment or oil was used to anoint the tabernacle of the
congregation, the ark of the testimony, the table and all the
vessels, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the altar of
Ancient Greeks enjoyed the sweetness of cinnamon in this way,
too, and also used cinnamon to flavor wine
Cinnamon is a common ingredient in many sweets, pastries, pies,
breads, and other baked goods. Hot and cold breakfast cereals
come alive with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Sticks are used to
stir and flavor hot beverages, especially coffee, hot chocolate,
and cider. Cinnamon is a key ingredient of the Indian spice
mix garam masala, a blend of dry-roasted herbs and spices. Cinnamon
is used in many savory chicken and lamb dishes from the Middle
In the pharmaceutical world, cinnamon flavoring is added to
toothpaste, gum, and dental floss.
Around the home, the warm, woodsy, pleasant fragrance is added
to candles, potpourri, and air fresheners.
The aroma of cinnamon is said to reduce stress and to have a
reviving, uplifting effect on mood.
For a complete history of most vegetables, see
"Vegetable Travelers at:
*A special thanks goes to Esther Valadez who was my faithful
secretary in 1983 when this column was written on February 23.
She was convinced that I was "possessed" by the devil---so
much so that she read the Bible EVERY day during her lunch break.
So when I wrote this column, she checked-and-double-checked
it for correctness of scripture. Her diligence probably kept
me from being run out of town in '83.
Also, thanks to Jack Hoover for his hard work
in providing the information about Herbs and Spices.