Most people who read the Bible do so for religious purposes, not to learn about plants.
But lo and behold, there are many species of plants and trees mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, and members of the Kaufman Lions Club learned about them on Friday, Nov. 15.
Chet McDonald, a member of the club and a Texas Master Gardener, presented the program.
There are about 150 references to plants, spices and trees in the Bible, and some of them are well-suited to growing in Texas.
One of these species is the fig, which is mentioned 44 times in the Bible. While many of them grow in this area as shrubs, they can grow as high as 30 feet in some parts of the world.
Another plant based in the Holy Land is called, literally, the burning bush, and is also known as the holy bramble, a hardy perennial. The one mentioned in the story of Moses is said to be located in St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, also know Mount Moses.
Aloe vera is another native plant of the Mideast and was used in Biblical times for embalmment and as a perfume, as well as for today’s uses of soothing skin and treating bug bites. Mint and dill are used today as flavorings, but also have been studied for their properties to help alleviate congestion and breathing issues, McDonald said.
Hyssop, another member of the mint family, was burned and believed to have cleansing properties.
Garlic, a popular flavoring today, is believed to support the immune system and help patients with heart disease and hypertension.
Mustard seeds grow from a tiny speck into a large tree, McDonald explained. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, requires 75,000 flowers to produce about a pound of the fragrant flavoring, with a value today of about $5,000. It was used in Biblical times to treat plague and smallpox and is being researched today for its properties as an anti-depressant.
Acacia wood was used to build the Ark of the Covenant, while cedars of Lebanon were used in the construction of King Solomon’s temple, as well as in boats of the era. The sycamore tree, climbed by Zacchaeus to see Jesus, was known for its sweet aroma.
Cilantro is known today mostly as a flavoring. Its seeds, however, were ingested in past cultures to help with sleep and digestion. The plant also can serve as an insect repellant, McDonald explained to club members.
Also frequently mentioned in the Bible are pomegranates, at least 25 times. Dates, frankincense, myrrh, gall, mallow are also referenced, as well as the many varieties of palm trees, in addition to the Judas tree, a type of redbud on which the betrayer of Jesus hung himself. Noting the short height of the flowering tree and its small branches, club members figured Judas must have been a fairly slight man.
Programs on this topic, as well as several others, are available from by several local Master Gardeners, McDonald said after his presentation. They can be arranged by calling the Kaufman County Extension Office at (972) 932-9073. Master Gardeners are volunteers who have received special training in horticulture and education from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.