Faith sees the flower in every seed

by Jan Spann

We value flowers for their beauty, and some of the plants we enjoy today were also used in biblical times. Nature is an important aspect of God’s creation, as a major source of food, building materials and even medicine. Scripture refers to many plants, showing concrete uses and also symbolism for how we are to follow our faith.

The first chapter of the Christian Bible details what God has provided: “every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth; every herb or plant which had a seed in it, by which it sowed itself again; or being taken off, might be sown by man, even every one that was wholesome, healthful, and nourishing.”

Hyssop, not as well known as its cousin oregano, was also used when Hebrews marked their homes with the blood of the Lamb as noted in Exodus 12. And as Jesus nears death on the cross, he says, “I am thirsty.” A branch of hyssop held the jar of sour wine to his lips, after which He said, “It is finished.” While we can’t be certain if that species was what we know as hyssop today, Hyssopus officinalis has been used medicinally from ancient times for its antiseptic properties and for congestion.

King Solomon and his bride exchange comments with comparisons to a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valley. Several different flowering species have been called rose of Sharon, and the one agreement has been it would not have been our modern rose. Instead, the botanical community places rose of Sharon as hibiscus syriancus, or shrub althea. Today’s lily of the valley, convallaria majalis (also known as Tears of the Virgin Mary), is sweetly scented and deadly poisonous. Plant it in partial shade and moist soil. This plant likely couldn’t thrive in the Holy Land, and some scholars believe the flower mentioned in the Bible was the daffodil or grape hyacinth.

Solomon writes of love that models the relationship God wants with His people. Comparing his beloved bride to the spices in a fine garden, King Solomon spoke of spikenard and saffron; calamus, with all the trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, comes from the saffron crocus. Solomon also spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls.

The people of ancient times used a variety of natural plants in ceremonies and healing. Myrrh is mentioned in one of the oldest known medical records, circa 16th century B.C., from the Egyptians. Greeks used it for incense and in unguents, and later the Jews used it in funerals. It was one of the three precious gifts the Magi brought to the baby Jesus. Extracted as a gummy mixture that oozed from a thorny tree, myrrh provided relief for many skin conditions like chapped and cracked skin. Today’s science shows the substance has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Mentioned along with myrrh in Exodus, fragrant calamus and fragrant cinnamon were described for use as a holy anointing oil and incense to be used in the tabernacle service. Calamus is mentioned as a spice several times in the Old Testament and grows at the edges of ponds and lakes. The best way to identify the plant is to break off a leaf and detect with your nose how the plant got its common name of sweet flag. Plant this perennial sedge in a container without holes to keep it moist and to rein in its vigorous growth.

One of the ancient spices most familiar to us today is cinnamon. Rarer in ancient times than today, cinnamon was mentioned only three times in the Old Testament, including Proverbs 7. The fragrant bark of a tree in the laurel family, this spice has medicinal merit as a circulatory stimulant and an anti-inflammatory. Its antiviral properties may be why it’s often used in aromatherapy and lozenges.

Aloe vera’s primary use today is burns, but the aloe mentioned in biblical history could have been used for conditions we know as arthritis, gangrene, nausea and ulcers. The early practitioners created a concentrated juice of the aloe’s leaves as well as dried the root for aromatic purposes and for travel. In Numbers 24, Balaam describes aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters, and in John 19, Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe to prepare Christ’s dead body.

Biblical references include herbs such as dill, cumin, mint and fennel plus trees like olive, apricot, fig and almond. Grapevines had significant importance throughout our ancient history. If you are interested in growing a Biblical garden, be sure to include wormwood, one of many artemesia that grow well in Central Arkansas and can be used in place of cedar to keep moths and silverfish out of your closets.

In much the same way as our ancestors learned what foods were not to be eaten, they also gained knowledge through trial and error or divine inspiration on how to use nature as medicines and balms, which scientists now confirm. As you enjoy the wonder in our changing seasons, consider that many of the shrubs, trees and plants are rooted in our faith as well.