Medicinal plants of the Bible - revisited

Amots Dafni, Barbara Böck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Previous lists number from 55 to 176 plant species as "Biblical Medicinal Plants." Modern studies attest that many names on these lists are no longer valid. This situation arose due to old mistranslations and/or mistakes in botanical identification. Many previously recognized Biblical plants are in no way related to the flora of the Bible lands. Accordingly, the list needs revision. Methods: We re-examine the list of possible medicinal plants in the Bible based on new studies in Hebrew Biblical philology and etymology, new studies on the Egyptian and Mesopotamian medicinal use of plants, on ethnobotany and on archaeobotany. Results: In our survey, we suggest reducing this list to 45 plant species. Our contribution comprises 20 "newly" suggested Biblical Medicinal Plants. Only five species are mentioned directly as medicinal plants in the Bible: Fig (Ficus carica), Nard (Nardostachys jatamansi), Hyssop (Origanum syriacum), balm of Gilead (Commiphora gileadensis) and Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum). No fewer than 18 medicinal plants are mentioned in old Jewish post-Biblical sources, in addition to those in the Bible. Most of these plants (15) are known also in Egypt and Mesopotamia while three are from Egypt only. Seven of our suggested species are not mentioned in the Bible or in the Jewish post-Biblical literature but were recorded as medicinal plants from Egypt, as well as from Mesopotamia. It is quite logical to assume that they can be included as Biblical Medicinal Plants. Conclusions: All our suggested Biblical Medicinal Plants are known as such in Ancient Egypt and/or Mesopotamia also. Examination of our list shows that all these plants have been in continuous medicinal use in the Middle East down the generations, as well as being used in the Holy Land today. Precisely in King Solomon's words, "That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 27 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Bible
  • Medicinal plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Cultural Studies
  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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