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Food in the Bible: Spices & Herbs

Ending the Food In the Bible blog series is our Spices and Herbs. Quite a flavorful note. (I'm so sorry. I couldn't resist.) The next series that I'll be writing is the Feasts of the Bible series. I'm pretty excited to get started on that one as well. In the bible, there are mentions of herbs and spices, but they aren't as prominent food-wise as the other food groups. I was reading on about herbs and spices in the Bible and it made an entire list of how they're used. They "perfumed the Jerusalem Temple (2 Chronicles 2:4), sweetened the home (Song of Songs 7:13), and seasoned meals during the Exodus (Numbers 11:5–6). Repeated references to herbs and spices indicate that the people of the Bible knew how these plants tasted, smelled and looked, where they grew and what medicinal value they provided."

So what are spices? Spices are aromatic or pungent vegetable substances used to flavor food, (Webster). The U. S. Forest Service from the USDA gives two lists, common spices derived from seeds and the other common spices derived from roots, stems, bark, leaves, or flowers.

Common Spices Derived From Seeds

Common Spices derived from Roots, Stems, Bark, Leaves, or Flowers

Allspice Angelica Anise Annatto Black Cumin Black pepper Brown mustard Caraway Cardamom Cayenne pepper Celery seed Coriander Cumin Dill Fennel Fenugreek Juniper berries Lovage Mace Mustard Myrtle Nutmeg Paprika Pepper Pimento Sichuan pepper Star anise Tabasco pepper Tamarind Vanilla White mustard White pepper





Bay leaf






Chinese keys

Cloves Curry leaf


Field mint

French tarragon

Garden nasturtium





Lemon verbena



Makrut lime












Now. Herbs are not the same as spices. Herbs are fresh and dried leaves and are usually green in color. Spices also tend to be more pungent in flavor than herbs. When learning about history, since it's stuff that happened in the past, especially if there is no one left alive to tell the stories of the day, proof has to be found, remnants of things that were there before. One Egyptian item called The Ebers Papyrus was a scroll that had a list of plants that were used as medicines. This scroll dated back to roughly 1550 BC. Spices, such as Anise, Mustard, Saffron, Cinnamon, and Cassia were on the scroll. This scroll was an Egyptian scroll, but Cinnamon and cassia both are Southeastern Asia and China natives. The scroll itself is proof of a spice trade that existed 3500 years ago, if not longer.

From what we know now of the Spice trade, in 950 BC Arab merchants caravanning with donkeys and camels went through India, China, and Southeast Asia on what was called the Incense Route. This route served as a way for the Arab merchants to bring spices to the Greeks. 80 BC was when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and he established Alexandria as a port for the spice trade. This port would remain in use for trade for centuries. Early Romans took spices and used them for foods, medicines, and also things like perfumes and lotions. Spices were so sought after, massive amounts of gold and silver were used to purchase spices. After a century of this, Rome figured out its own direct trade route with India, going through the Red Sea, which cut Arab merchants out as the middle man and ended the Arab spice trade monopoly. The Romans didn't just keep the spices to themselves. They took them throughout Europe, where they flavored the culture upon introduction. The Goths, a Danube River living European tribe, took over Rome in 410. They ransomed Roman lives for gold, silver, silks, various other valuables, and notably 3,000 pounds of pepper. The fall of Rome also brought the disappearance of the spice trade for 400 years. Its resurrection was because a man named Marco Polo had written memoirs that spoke of travels to the Orient and the spices that were to be found. This was a call to action for the Europeans who began a search for a water route to the Orient. As the saying goes, "In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue." He was searching for a shorter retrieval route for cinnamon and black pepper. 1519 to 1522, a water route to the Spice Islands (The Moluccas) was uncovered, finding a production place of cloves, nutmeg, mace, and pepper.The control over the spice trade brought riches to whomever held the trade in their grasp, because prices were astronomical for these spices. And honestly, they still are. But then in the early 1800's spice plantations ended the spice trade cartel. The USA hopped on board and is now the largest spice importer and consumer in the world. In four years.. (1990 to 1994) an average 530 pounds ($372 millions worth) were imported into the USA.

Herbs have their own history as well. All cultures have seen the use of herbs in their history for as long as time. Tis evidence of herb garden existence in Europe from the middle ages. Egypt had schools for herbalists since 3,000 BC. Herbs brought scholars who were intrigued in herbal medicine, their use in cosmetics, how to use them for cooking, their histories, and folklore. Now, the United States produces almost 200 billion pounds of herbs and spices per year.

Colonists who came to North America in the 16 and 1700s brought seeds from their plants to their new homes. This showed how important these plants were, considering they really weren't allowed to bring much with them. The herbs commonly known that they brought and introduced were plantain, mint, lavender, parsley, roses, dandelion, chamomile, thyme, and yarrow. Columbus was introduced to cayenne pepper on the Canary Islands by the Arawak. Cherokee shared their knowledge on how to treat fevers with goldenrod. The Sioux shared their knowledge, teaching settlers how to use echinacea to help with wounds and snake bites. Before refrigeration, in India, Indonesia, and other places near the equator, people used spices and herbs to cover the flavor of rancid meat so that they could still eat the meat. Without refrigeration, The meat went rancid quickly and it covered the flavor up so that people could still eat the meat. China, India, and Vietnam are the largest exporters of organic spices, in modern-day. China, India, and Vietnam are the largest exporters of organic spices. So the next time that you're going through the spice aisle and adding some colorful flavor to your dishes, remember there's an entire story and history behind them. And in all honesty, how cool is that? I hope you guys enjoyed reading about and learning about biblical time spices, herbs, and also the rest of the food series that we're finishing up! I can't wait to see what you guys think about the next series!

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