In biblical times spices were used in cooking, oils, incense, perfumes as well as making ointments for cosmetic, medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Due to their high cost, spices were considered a luxury, particularly since many were imported into Palestine from far away lands such as India, Sri Lanka, Asia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Arabia and Egypt.
Aloes were used for making medicine, perfume and embalming. Aloe is mentioned in Bible verses Proverbs 7:17 and Psalms 45:8 where it was used to perfume clothing and bedding. John 19:39 mentions mixing aloe with other spices to make and ointment for anointing the deceased.
The resin of the balsam plant was used to make medicines and cosmetics including annointing oil for religious ceremonies. As the product originated from Gilead, it is also referred to as Balm of Gilead. As a medicine, balsam was used to internally to treat coughs, colds and sore throats as well as externally to provide relief from inflammation caused by arthritis.
Bible verses Exodus 30:24, Ezekiel 27:19 and Psalms 45:8 mention the use of cassia. Anointing oil was derived from the dried bark and flowers of the cassia, while the leaves and pods were crushed to make medicines for fighting against bacterial, viral and fungal infection.
Use of the spice cinnamon is mentioned in the Bible in verses Exodus 30:23, Proverbs 7:17, Song 4:14 and Revelations 18:13. Cinnamon was a spice of luxury, which was imported to from as far away as Burma, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The spice was utilized for a variety of purposes including cooking, perfumes and as an ingredient in making holy oil.
The leaves of the henna plant were used by cosmetic purposes, in particular as a dye used by women to color their hair and nails, as mentioned in the bible in Song of Solomon verses 1:14 and 4:13. Since the tree grew wild in Palestine and surrounding areas, henna was not as expensive as some of the more exotic spices were at the time.
The stimulating aromatic frankincense was used for religious purposes by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Assyrians, Romans and Israelites. Frankincense is mentioned several times in the bible including Exodus 30:34-38, Matthew 2:11 and Revelations 18:13. It was derived from the resin of Boswellia shrub wood and pounded into a powder used in ointments, perfumes and holy incense.
During biblical times myrrh was used in incense, perfumes, embalming oils and to give additional aroma to wines. The Old Testament contains several mentions of myrrh including Genesis 37:25, Esther 2:12 and Exodus 30:23. The most notable mentions in the New Testament are the gift of myrrh at the birth of Jesus Christ in Matthew 2:11 and in Mark 15:23 where a drink of myrrh was given to Him during crucifixion.
Part of the Saffron plant produces a yellow pigment which is used to clothing, walls and food. It was also commonly mixed with oil for cooking, to make perfume and as a medicine, as mentioned in Song of Solomon 4:14.
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