Biblical Herbs: Mints in the Bible

by Herb Exchange

Plants are first mentioned in the Bible in the first chapter of the first book: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind…” (Genesis 1:11). Throughout the ages, the Hebrews have attributed holiness to many species of plants. The Scriptures associate feasts, rites and commandments with many plants and their cultivation. Early written information about herbs is found in the Bible back to the time of Moses or even earlier. In Exodus 12:22 Moses tells the children of Israel how to save their children by using the herb and lamb’s blood. “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.” In Numbers 19:6, 18 hyssop is again mentioned. Also, in 1 Kings 4:33 God gave Solomon wisdom, “And he (Solomon)spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall…” Psalms 51:7 refers to this plant: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” While pride is symbolized by the majestic cedar of Lebanon in Jewish tradition, the lowly hyssop represents modesty and humility. At least eighteen plants have been considered for the hyssop of the Bible, but modern botanists have generally agreed that Syrian majoram (Origanum syriacum) is the likely plant. It seems to fit well with these verses. It was used to cleanse homes defiled by leprosy or death and came to symbolize cleanliness. Its fragrance and taste led it to be prized by the ancient Romans and the Greeks before them. Bridges and grooms wore crowns made of marjoram. It was also quite likely prized in the kitchen, as it is now.

Herbs of the Bible

In the New Testament a sponge soaked in sour wine or vinegar was stuck on a branch of hyssop and offered to Jesus of Nazareth on the cross (John 19:29). Hyssop-Oregano was often gathered in bunches and used as a brush or sprinkler for Jewish purification rituals.

Hyssop, Bible Psalms 51:7

Mint (Mentha longifolia) or horsemint is thought by many Jewish scholars to be the mint referenced by Jesus in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 in His discourse with the Pharisees. It along with anise or dill and cumin grow wild in parts of Palestine, mint being the most common. The Pharisee taxed himself lightly if he paid the tithe of mint, for it was too common and too easily cultivated to be of much worth, even though it was valuable as a medicinal herb. It was one of the plants subjected to the ban on sowing and gathering every seventh year. Jesus’ lesson on hyprocrisy is told by Matthew and again by Luke, and mint is the one herb mentioned by both. The Greek word Heduosmos, or mintha, means “having a sweet smell” and refers to “a sweet-smelling herb or mint.” The plant derives its name from Mintha, a Greek nymph who was transformed into the herb by Persephone after Persephone learned that her husband, Pluto had loved the nymph. Several varieties of mint grew in Israel, but horsemint is the most common and probably the one referred to by Matthew and Luke. Horsemint is still found today in the Holy Land and is cultivated at Aleppo in Syria. It is much larger than the other mints, reaching a height of three feet or more, with lilac flowers. It grows in moist, sunny places where it tends to run wild. It has been confused with Mentha spicata, or spearmint. The Hebrews used mint as a strewing herb at home and in the Temple, prizing its clean and aromatic scent. They served mint at the Spring Passover Feast of the Paschal Lamb, and today it is one of the “bitter herbs” of the paschal feast.

Bible Herbs: Genesis 1:11

In Israel the branched inflorescence of the Salvia dominica is one of the several salvias thought to have inspired the design of the menorah, seven-branched candelabra, or lampstand. Other scholars believe Judean sage (Salvia judaica) may have been in view. Judaica is from the Hebrew Yehudah, or Judah, the name given to the mountainous southern part of the land of Israel. The Bible describes God’s instructions to Bezalel of the tribe of Judah, one of Moses’ Israelites, to make an ark, altar and table of acacia wood: And he made the lampstand of pure gold; of hammered work he made the lampstand. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and its flowers were of the same piece…” (Exodus 37:17). Sage had already proven its value as both a flavoring and a medicine, so it is hardly surprising that it appeared in religious symbolism.

(This article was submitted by Randy, and taken from Randy’s book  “Stop…and Smell The Mints”)  For more information go to https://outskirtspress.com/stopandsmellthemints

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