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Spices and Herbs in the Bible

By Yona Williams    7/25/11

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Some of the spices and herbs used today in cooking our meals have a history that traces back to Biblical times. In this article, you will learn how coriander, cinnamon, and mint fit into the Bible.

Coriander

References to coriander have appeared in the same breath as manna – an edible food source that the Bible never actually gives concrete details. No one knows where it came from or what it was. In various Old Testament passages, descriptions are given regarding its physical characteristics. The first time manna is referenced in the Bible is in the Book of Exodus as the children of Israel are fleeing from Egypt and following Moses into the wilderness.

Coriander is mentioned within the passage as the manna reference: "The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey" [Exodus 16:31]. Coriander is also mentioned in Numbers 11: 7 – "The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin."

Today, coriander is widely grown and valued as a spice for cooking. The "seed" is used in the United States as a ground spice. The leaves of the plant are known as cilantro, which is quite popular in Spanish and Mexican dishes, such as salsa.

Cinnamon & Cassia

The commercial source of cinnamon as a spice comes from the C. zelandicum plant. With native ties to the Far East, the popularity of the spice quickly spread to other parts of the world. The bark of the C. zeylandicum is used to make cinnamon by grounding the bark of stems when they are young. Cassia belongs to a plant closed related to the one that produces cinnamon, but it is considered a spice of lower quality.

While cassia is not used today, it was highly valued during Biblical times. For instance, cassia is mentioned as one of the trade items of Tyre in Ezekiel 27: " "Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged wrought iron, cassia and calamus for your wares."

Another mention in the Bible is found in Psalm 45, where the King's garments are anointed with myrrh, aloes, and cassia: "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.  All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad."

Mint

Mint is a plant that grows along sources of water, such as springs. During Biblical times, the herb has found itself linked as a spice of justice in passages from Luke and Matthew: Luke 11: " Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone." The reference in Matthew is highlighted above in the passage involving cummin.

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