John Hutton Balfour.

The plants of the Bible online

. (page 10 of 11)
Online LibraryJohn Hutton BalfourThe plants of the Bible → online text (page 10 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

convertible into ropes, forming a contrast with their
hollow stems to the solidity and strength of the branches
of trees, and when dry easily set on fire, and when in
flower their light and feathery inflorescence may be
bent down by the slightest wind that blows." (See



(Nardostachys jatamansi, Dec.)

My spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof." SONG OF SOL. i. 12.

| HE Hebrew word nerd or nard, and the Greek
nardos, have been translated in our version
of the Bible "spikenard." From the refer-
ences made in Scripture it is clear that the
plant was one famous for its perfume. In the Song of
Solomon i. 12, it is said, "While the king sitteth at his
table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof ; "
and in ch. iv. 13, 14, the plant is mentioned as cultivated
in gardens along with " trees of frankincense ; myrrh and
aloes, with all the chief spices." Many of these are
known to have been the products of Arabia and far
Eastern countries, and to have been brought to Palestine,
especially in the days of Solomon. In Mark xiv. 3,
spikenard is referred to both as regards its perfume and
its value. While Jesus sat at meat, "there came a
woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard
very precious ; and she brake the box, and poured it on
his head." In John xii. 3 the same occurrence is alluded


to: "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard,
very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped
his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the
odour of the ointment." The value of the ointment is
referred to by Judas Iscariot, who said that it might
have been " sold for three hundred pence [denarii], and
given to the poor" (John xii. 5). Rosenmuller says this
sum was about fifty rixdollars ; that is, about eight
pounds sterling. All these passages point to the delight-
ful perfume and the rarity and costliness of spikenard.
The term nard is said to be derived from the Tamil, in
which words beginning with nar convey the notion of
an agreeable perfume. The ointment prepared from the
oil of spikenard-root was considered by the Romans as
precious. Horace promises to Virgil a whole cadus
(about thirty-six quart bottles) of wine for a small onyx-
box full of spikenard :

" Nardo vina merebere,
Nardi parvus onyx eliciet cadum."

HOE., Carm. iv., Ode 12.

On the occasion of banquets the Romans crowned
their guests with flowers such as roses, and anointed them
with spikenard :

" Et rosa,

Canos odorati capillos,
Dum licet, Assyriaque nardo
Potamus uncti."

HOE., Carm. ii., Ode 11.

Sir William Jones, in the " Asiatic Researches," states
that he considers the spikenard like the produce of a
plant called in Bengal jatcmcmsi, the stem of which,


covered with fibrous matter, is dug up in the young
state, dried, and sold in the bazaars. In this state it
resembles the tail of an ermine or small weasel. The
plant has also, from its form, been called by the Arabs
Sunbul hindae, or Indian ear.

The plant has been specially examined by Dr. Royle.
It is the Nardostachys jatamansi of Decandolle. It
belongs to the natural order Valerianacese, the Valerian
family. The general name is derived from Greek words
meaning " nard " and " spike," and the specific name is
from the Indian appellation. This Indian plant seems
to have been imported from the Himalayas in the days
of Solomon, and to have been prized as a rare kind of
perfume. Our Lord smelled a sweet savour when Mary
anointed him ; and he commended her dutiful faith when
he said, in reply to the covetous and hypocritical Judas,
" Let her alone; why trouble ye her ? she hath wrought
a good work on me ... She hath done what she could :
she is come af orehand to anoint my body to the burying.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be
preached throughout the whole world, this also that she
hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her "
(Mark xiv. 6, 8, 9).


(Gossypiuin herbaceum, Linn. )

" Where were white, green [cotton], and blue, hangings." ESTHER i. 6.

|HE word cotton does not occur in our transla-
tion of the Bible ; but there is a Hebrew
word, karpas, in Esther i. 6, which has been
translated "green," and which, according to
many commentators, means cotton. The passage in
Esther describing the hangings of the palace of Ahasuerus
called Shushan or Lily, should, according to these com-
mentators, be rendered thus: " Hangings of white cotton
and blue, fastened with cords of fine flax and purple to
rings of silver and pillars of marble." The scene of
Esther's history was a country where cotton has been
constantly used to supply articles of clothing ; and this
tends to strengthen the opinion that cotton is referred
to in the passage which has been quoted. The Hebrew
word Jcarpas is very like the Sanskrit karpasum and
karpasa, signifying the cotton plant ; and it resembles
the Latin carbasus, which also means cotton. Koyle
remarks that the hangings thus described in Esther are



exactly like those used in India ; for " hanging curtains
made with calico, usually in stripes of different colours,
are employed throughout India as a substitute for doors."
The Indian name of cotton might easily reach the Per-
sian court of Susa in the time of Ahasuerus, whose

COTTON. (Gossypium herbaceum.)

dominion extended to India. As the communication
between India and Egypt was great, it is probable that
cotton was introduced into the latter country. The
Jews, in all probability, brought cotton with them on
their return from Babylon.

Some authors have supposed that the Hebrew words


shesh, bad, butz, and the Greek byssus, which occur in
the Bible, and which are translated " linen" and " fine
linen," may refer to cotton. These views, however, do
not appear to have been confirmed by the best commen-

The common herbaceous cotton is the Gossypium
herbaceum of botanists. It belongs to the natural order
Malvacese, the Mallow family. The plant has five lobed
leaves, and yellow petals, with a purple spot on each
claw. It is found in India, and it also occurs in the
south of Europe. There are other species of cotton
cultivated in various parts of the world, especially in

The substance called cotton consists of the hairs which
surround the seeds in the capsule or seed-vessel, and
which are the means of scattering the seed when the
capsule opens. While God thus wisely provides for the
dispersion of the cotton seed, he has also graciously pre-
pared for man materials of a most valuable kind for his
clothing and comfort. The history of cotton, its prep-
aration and manufacture, is a subject of deep interest,
and is connected with the commercial history of nations.
Royle remarks that " cotton has from the earliest ages
been characteristic of India. Indeed it has been well
remarked, that as from early times sheep wool has been
principally employed for clothing in Palestine and Syria,
in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Spain; hemp in the
northern countries of Europe, and flax in Egypt; so
cotton has always been employed for the same purpose
in India and silk in China. In the present day, cotton,


by the aid of machinery, has been manufactured in this
country on so extensive a scale, and sold at so cheap a
rate, as to have driven the manufacture of India almost
entirely out of the market. But still, until a very recent
period, the calicoes and chintzes of India formed very
extensive articles of commerce from that country to
Europe." Cotton is now largely cultivated in Pales-


(Arundo donax, Linn.)
"The reeds and flags shall wither.'' ISA. xix, 0.

IHE Hebrew word kaneh and the Greek kalamos
have been translated " reed " in the Bible.
The word canna in Greek and Latin, and
cane in English, may probably be traced to
the Hebrew word kaneh. In the Old Testament the
word kaneh is generally applied to reeds growing in
water, the hollow stems of which are easily broken.
Thus in Isaiah xix. 6, it is said, " And they shall turn
the rivers far away. . .and the reeds and flags shall wither."
In Isaiah xxxv. 7, reeds and rushes are associated as
growing in water; in 1 Kings xiv. 15, we have the ex-
pression, " As a reed is shaken in the water ; " Job xl.
21, " He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the
reed, and fens." The bruised reed is referred to in
Isaiah xlii. 3, and other places ; and its fragile character
is noticed in 2 Kings xviii. 2 1 : "Now. . .thou trustest upon
the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which
if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it : so


234 REED.

is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust in him."
(See also Isa. xxxvi. 6 ; Ezek. xxix. 6, 7.) Judging from
the names given by Greek and Roman authors to the
plants of Syria and Egypt, we may conjecture that in
these passages a species of arundo was referred to, such
as Arundo phragmites, the common reed, or Arundo
donax. This plant belongs to the natural order Grami-
nese, the Grass family.

In the New Testament the word kalamos is used as a
translation of kaneh in Matthew xii. 20. This word is
the calamus of the Latin; and from it we derive the
term culm, applied to the stems of grasses. In Matthew
xi. 7, and Luke vii. 24, our Lord, in speaking of John
the Baptist, says to the people, " What went ye out into
the wilderness to see ? A reed [kalamos] shaken with
the wind ? " Again, when the Roman soldiers mocked
Jesus, it is said they " put a reed in his right hand," and
they " took the reed, and smote him on the head " (Matt.
xxvii. 29, 30 ; Mark xv. 19). A reed was used to raise
up the vinegar on the sponge to the lips of the Saviour
on the cross (Matt, xxvii. 48 ; Mark xv. 36); and John
states that hyssop was also used probably meaning that
the sponge was put on a bunch of the hyssop shrub
attached to a reed. The apostle John used the word
calamus to mean a pen made of a reed (3 John 13).

(See also Bulrush and Flag.}


(Cyperus esculentus, Linn.'

" Can the flag grow without water ? " JOB viii. 11.

]HE Hebrew word achu occurs in Job viii. 11,
and is translated "flag" "Can the rush
grow up without mire ? can the flag [achu]
grow without water ? " In this passage the
word seems obviously to apply to an aquatic plant of
some sort. In Genesis xli. 2, 18, however, the same
word has been translated "meadow" "And, behold, there
came up out of the river seven well-favoured kine and
fat-fleshed ; and they fed in a meadow." In the latter
passage the word, according to our translation, embraces
the pasture or the moist meadow on the bank of the
river on which the flag grew. Commentators think that
the flag was a plant of the sedge family, and probably a
species of cyperus which furnished pasture for cattle.
Hence the Cyperus esculentus so called from its esculent
qualities has been conjectured to be the flag of the
Bible. It belongs to the natural order Cyperacese. The
plant grows in the south of Europe, in Africa, and in the

236 FLAG.

East. It produces tuberous roots which are nutritious,
and which, when roasted, have been used as a substi-
tute for coffee. The plant called flowering rash (Buto-
mus umbellatus), belonging to a distinct order, is also
found in Palestine.

Another Hebrew word, suph, has been translated
"flag." It is met with in Exodus ii. 5, 6, where
Jochebed is represented as placing the little ark with
Moses in the flags by the river's brink. Again, in Isaiah
xix. 6, it is said, " The reeds and flags [suph] shall
wither." In Jonah ii. 5 the word is rendered " weeds "
" The depth closed me round about, the weeds were
wrapped about my head." Some have supposed that
the word is applied to sea- weed in general. Lady Call-
cott is disposed to look upon it as referring to a species of
sea- wrack, such as Zostera marina, or Caulinia oceanica.
The latter plants are thrown up by the tide in the form
of numerous balls on the shores of the Mediterranean
Sea. The rush-like covering of Florence flasks is made
from zostera. This plant is not a true sea-weed, but is
in reality a flowering plant belonging to the natural
order Naiad acese. The Red Sea is called Yam Suph, or
" the sea of weeds."


(Ornithogalum umbellatum, Linn.}

" And the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung was sold for five pieces of
silver." 2 KINGS vi. 25.

| HE Hebrew chirionim, or charei-yonim, is met
with in the passage in 2 Kings referred to in
the above quotation, in which the famine in
Samaria was so great that comparatively
worthless articles of food were sold for a high price.
The word has been translated literally " dove's dung,"
the term yonim being a plural word meaning " doves,"
and the prefix charei, sometimes put dib, means " dung."
Some commentators believe that the actual dung of
pigeons is meant, and that the people were reduced to
such straits as to be compelled to eat such offensive
materials. It has been stated that in the famine in
England in 1316 the poor actually ate pigeon's dung.
Other commentators think that the cab of dove's dung
is part of a plant which received that name. The Arabs
applied the term to certain vegetable productions. A
species of salsola is called by them " sparrow's dung."



The plant figured has been called the dove's dung plant
on account of the green and white colour of its flowers,
thus resembling pigeon's dung.

The plant (Ornithogalum
umbellatum) is said to be
abundant in Samaria. It
belongs to the natural order
Liliacese, the Lily family.
It grows abundantly in
Europe as well as in the
Levant. The cab is a mea-
sure equal to three English
pints. The names of bird's
milk and common star of
Bethlehem are also given to

STAR OP BETHLEHEM. the plant. As this

(Ornithogalumu^ellatum.) galum ^ f()mid ^

it might supply the pigeon's dung mentioned in the English
famine. The bulb is used as an esculent in Syria and
neighbouring countries. It was formerly eaten by the
peasants in Italy.


(Atropa mandragora, Linn. ; Mandragora ojfitinalis. Mill.)

Reuben... found mandrakes in the field." GEN. xxx. 14.

|HE Hebrew plural word dudaim occurs in two
passages in the Old Testament, and has been
translated "mandrakes." The plant is de-
scribed as growing in the fields, and as pro-
ducing its fruit at the time of wheat-harvest, or in May.
" Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found
mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his
mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I
pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes. And she said unto
her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my
husband ? and wouldest thou take away my son's man-
drakes also ? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie
with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes. And Jacob
came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out
to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me ; for
surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And
he lay with her that night. And God hearkened unto
Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son."
From this passage it appears that the plant was con-


sidered as promoting conception. Again, in the Song of
Solomon, allusion is made to the smell of the mandrakes :
" The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all
manner of pleasant fruits" (vii. 13).

There have been numerous opinions as to the plant
referred to in these passages.
The Greek translators used
the word mandragorai, " man-
drakes," and Mala mandra-
goroon, or "apples of man-
drakes," to express the Hebrew
dudaim. Hence the plant has
been considered as the Atropa
mandragora of botanists.
The plant possesses stimulant
and narcotic qualities. It be-
longs to the natural order
Solanacese, sub-order Atropese, or Deadly-nightshade
family. The leaves of the plant are coarse and
lettuce-like, and they conceal the pale yellowish flowers
which arise from the crown of the root. The root
is large and spindle-shaped, and often divides in a
forking manner. It has a resemblance to the human
form, and hence the plant was sometimes called anthro-
pornorphon. The fruit resembles the potato-apple, and
is of a pale orange colour. It seems to have been called
sometimes " apple of love." The plant occurs in Pales-
tine, and has been noticed by recent travellers. The
inhabitants reckon the fruit exhilarating, and as aiding
in the procreation of children. There is a cucurbitaceous

MANDRAKE. (Atropa mandragora )


plant to which the name dudaim is given at the present
day. This is the Cucumus dudaim, or apple-shaped
melon, which has a fruit variegated with green and
orange at first, and becoming yellow when ripe. The
fruit has a very fragrant, vinous, musky odour, and
contains a whitish, insipid pulp. Its qualities are very
different from those of the mandrake.

There are some curious legends about the mandrake.
It was thought that the man-like root, when torn from
the ground, uttered shrieks,

" Shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad."

Romeo and Juliet.

In the Second Part of Henry VI. Shakespeare also
alludes to this notion, when he makes Suffolk say,

" Would curses kill as doth the mandrake's groan."

In the old time of sorcery and magic the plant
acquired a remarkable reputation, and was regarded
with superstitious fear.

Its narcotic qualities are referred to by Shakespeare,

" Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday."

Lady Callcott in her "Scripture Herbal" refers to
these passages from Shakespeare, and gives some curious
details in regard to the plant.

Another solanaceous plant, Physalis alkekengi, winter
cherry or Jew's cherry, has by some been regarded as
yielding the fruit called dudaim.



(Tribulus terrestris, Linn.)

Do men gather... figs of thistles ? "MATT. vii. 16.

| HE Hebrew word dardar, and the Greek tri-
bolos, have been translated in the Authorized
Version "thistles." When God cursed the earth
for man's sin, he said, "Thorns also and
thistles shall it bring forth to thee " (Gen. iii. 1 8) ; and
in announcing judgment on Israel, the prophet says,
" The thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars "
(Hosea x. 8). In these passages the word dardar is
associated with koz or kotz, meaning " thorns." Again, in
the New Testament our Lord says, " Do men gather. . .figs
of thistles?" (Matt. vii. 16.) The word tribolos or
tribulus is translated " briers " in Heb. vi. 8 : " That
which beareth thorns and briers is rejected." There is
some difficulty in ascertaining what plant is meant.
Some suppose that it is Tribulus terrestris, a plant which
derives its name from the Greek name tribolos. It is a
prickly plant which grows along the surface of the
ground. It is called caltrops, in consequence of the


spiny fruit resembling the machines formerly used to
obstruct cavalry. It grows in dry barren places in the
East. This plant belongs to the natural order Zygo-
phyllacese, the Bean-caper family. Some commentators
consider the plant as Centaurea calcitrapa, one of the
composite plants ; others take Fagonia cretica or F.
arabica. Lady Callcott figures in her " Scripture Herbal"
Carduus arabicus, a true species of thistle. There is no
doubt that thistles are common in the Holy Land at the
present day. Hasselquist noticed eight or ten different
kinds of thistles on the road from Jerusalem to Rama,
and one on Mount Tabor, along with the Cynara
scolymus, or the artichoke, which belongs to the same
order as the thistle. Other composite plants remarkably
spiny, and which are mentioned as occurring in Palestine,
are Cnicus syriacus, Scolymus maculatus, Centaurea
calcitrapa and C. verutum, and Carthamus oxycanthus.
In bringing forth thistles, the land produces what is
highly injurious to cultivation, for the down or pappus
attached to the fruit scatters the seeds far and wide, and
the plants thus produced choke all useful vegetation.
The down of the thistle and of our composite plants is
an altered and degenerate calyx. In 2 Kings xiv. 9, as
well as in 2 Chronicles xxv. 18, and in Job xxxi. 40,
the Hebrew word used for thistles is not dardar, but
choach; and this latter word is also translated " thorn" in
Job xli. 2, Proverbs xxvi. 9, Song of Solomon ii. 2, Isaiah
xxxiv. 13, and Hosea ix. 6. There can be no doubt that
these names refer to noxious weeds which are connected
with desolation and a curse.



As hemlock in the furrows of the field." HOSEA. x. 4.

|HE Hebrew word rosh has been variously
translated in the authorized version of the
Old Testament. In Hosea x. 4, it is trans-
lated "hemlock:" "Thus judgment springeth
up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." So also in
Amos vi. 12 : "Ye have turned... the fruit of righteous-
ness into hemlock." In other passages the word is
rendered " gall," and it is often associated with wormwood.
Thus, in Deuteronomy xxix. 1 8, it is said, " Lest there
should be among you a root that beareth gall and worm-
wood." The prophet Jeremiah says, " The Lord our
God... hath given us water of gall to drink" (viii. 14):
" Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with worm-
wood, and give them water of gall to drink" (ix. 15);
" I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink
the water of gall" (xxiii. 15); " Keinembering mine
affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall "
(Lam. iii. 19). In Psalm Ixix. 21, it is said, "They
gave me also gall for my meat." In Deuteronomy xxxii.
32, allusion is made to "grapes of gall," and bitter


clusters, as if the fruit of the plant were succulent like
grapes, and grew in clusters. On this account some have
supposed that it was a species of solanum, such as S.
nigrum. The word rosh seems to refer to a poisonous
plant, and some have supposed it to be a species of poppy.
One species, Papaver arenarium, is very common in the
fields of Palestine. Celsius thinks that by the hemlock
plant is meant the Conium maculatum of botanists, the
cicuta of the Romans. This plant belongs to the natural
order UmbelliferaB. It has marked poisonous qualities.
This opinion of Celsius seems to be founded on very
slender data. This plant seems rather to have been
marked for its bitterness than for its poisonous properties.
The word rosh is in the New Testament rendered by the
Greek word chole, meaning gall or bile : " They gave him
vinegar to drink, mingled with gall " (Matt, xxvii. 34).
Again, in Mark xv. 23, in place of gall the word myrrh
is used, as indicating bitterness : " And they gave him
to drink wine mingled with myrrh." Hengstenberg says
in regard to these two passages : " Matthew, in his usual
way, refers to theological views in his narrative of the
drink. Always keeping his eye on the prophecies of the
Old Testament, he speaks of vinegar and gall for the
purpose of rendering the fulfilment of the passage in the
Psalms (Ps. Ixix. 21) more manifest. Mark again,
according to his usual way, looks rather at the outward
quality of the drink. It was, according to him, wine
mingled with myrrh, the usual drink of malefactors."
There appears, then, to be no data by which we can
determine the exact meaning of the term rosh.


IEVERAL species

of artemisia
grow in Pales-
tine. The
common wormwood is
A rtemisia A bsinthium.
The name always implies
wormwood or something
more bitter than gall. In
Deuteronomy xxix. 18, it
is said, " Lest there should
be among you a root that
beareth gall and worm-
wood ; " and its unpleasant
character is alluded to in
many parts of the Bible
(Prov. v. 4 ; Amos v. 7 ;
Jer. ix. 15, and xxiii. 15 ;
Lam. iii. 15, 19). The
genus artemisia belongs to
the natural order Com-

WORMWOOD. (Artemisia, Absinthium.)


" With bitter herbs they shall eat it." Ex. xii. 8 ;
NUM. ix. 11.

!HE Hebrew word merorim has been translated
" bitter herbs." It occurs in the two passages
referred to above, in which directions are
given to the Israelites as to the mode of
eating the Passover. They were directed to eat the
paschal lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
In Lamentations iii. 15 the same word is used, and is
translated " bitterness." In this passage it is associated
with wormwood.

There were a considerable number of bitter herbs
used along with food, chiefly belonging to the crucifer-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10

Online LibraryJohn Hutton BalfourThe plants of the Bible → online text (page 10 of 11)