Healing Plants of the Bible—Isaiah 38:21

Numerous plants were used in biblical times to ease and heal a variety of medical conditions that affected humans and animals.

The Ebers papyrus reveals that the ancient Egyptians had nearly 900 remedies for different ailments including myrrh and honey for wounds. Archaeologists have found 600 clay tablets in a palace at Nineveh, containing 250 names of medicinal plants, drugs, and minerals. The plants included almond, calendula, chamomile, fennel, myrrh, licorice, lupine, mandrake, opium poppy, pomegranate, saffron, and turmeric.

The following plants and plant products are mentioned in the Bible for their medicinal properties.

Balm. Balm is an aromatic gum produced by balsam trees. Biblical healers made a balsam out of a small evergreen tree (Commiphora gileadensis) growing in the hills around Gilead. This balm was used for pain and as a healing ointment (Jer. 8:22; 51:8).

Fig. The fruit of the well-known tree was used as both food and medicine. For example, Isaiah prescribed a lump of figs for Hezekiah’s boil (Isa. 38:21).

Gall. Certain biblical references to “gall” point to some bitter and perhaps poisonous plant such as the poppy (Lam. 3:19). The “gall” offered to Jesus was doubtless myrrh. The mixture of wine and myrrh was considered to ease pain (Mark 15:22).

Hyssop. Hyssop (Origanum Maru, L.) was used in ceremonial sprinkling, including cleansing of lepers (Lev. 14:4-7) and of ceremonial uncleanness contracted by touching a dead body (Num. 19:14-18). Hyssop was used in these ceremonies partly due to its disinfectant and antimicrobial properties. Hyssop was possibly used in quenching the thirst (John 19:29).

Mandrake. Mandrake is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae, Mandragora officinarum, L.). This narcotic plant was thought by the ancients to bring fertility (Gen. 30:14-17). No scientific evidence has been produced to confirm this ancient belief. Some scholars suggest that Genesis 30:14-16 refers to the “ginseng” root (Panax ginseng), which is known to have medicinal properties.

Oil. Oil was extracted from different plants, including olive, cassia and almond. Oil was used to treat wounds (Isa. 1:6).

Wine. People poured wine into open wounds to help prevent infection (Luke 10:34).

Other healing plants or their products are mentioned in the Bible, including aloes, anise, cinnamon, cumin, frankincense, and saffron (Song. 4:14; Matt. 23:23).