9 Healing Oils and Spices of the Bible that Are Still Used Today

🌺  Written by Jennifer Graham Kizer

The Bible isn’t just a sacred collection of texts—it also documents how ancient Middle Eastern people carried out their lives. Scripture describes their dwelling places, their livelihoods, their rituals, their food, and their healing practices.

Interestingly, these people used many of the same plants, herbs, oils, and spices we use today. In fact, the healing properties of plant-derived substances were well-known and widely traded among nations.

The term “aromatherapy” never comes up in the Bible, but the powers of healing scents are called upon again and again.

 

Healing Oils and Spices in the Bible

Aloe Growing Out of Bible
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Nowadays, researchers are still learning about the health benefits of essential oils like sandalwood—and the healing properties of spices like cinnamon. But for those who believe that God is the ultimate Healer, it comes as no surprise that His world is brimming with substances with inherent medicinal properties.

So naturally, Biblical stories are “peppered” with references to specific oils and spices. Here are a few of them, along with their modern-day uses.

 

1. Frankincense

Wise Man Offering Frankincense
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The Magi famously brought frankincense (the resin from a Boswellia tree) to the baby Jesus. And in the Old Testament, this oil was among those used to consecrate the holy objects (like the altar) in the tent of meeting.

Ancient peoples also valued it for its medicinal benefits, and today there’s growing evidence that frankincense has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

While it’s not among the most widely used oils, frankincense is sold as a dietary supplement and shows up as an ingredient in some skin care products.

 

2. Hyssop

Hyssop plant
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The hyssop plant is mentioned often in Scripture and is usually associated with ritual cleansing. It’s mentioned in Leviticus and Numbers when the priests are being instructed in consecration practices.

And in Psalm 51:7, it’s said to make a person clean:

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Hyssop is a shrub in the mint family that is still used today in traditional herbal treatments for coughing, poor circulation, digestive issues, and skins problems.

 

3. Cinnamon

cinnamon sticks
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In the Bible, cinnamon was a key element of the anointing oil used to consecrate holy objects, but it was also a highly sought-after commodity in general. In Revelation 18:13, it’s listed among the luxury goods available in Babylon:

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice…” — Revelation 18:11-13a

While cinnamon is no longer considered a luxury good, it’s one of the most popular spices worldwide, and it’s also a star among modern day spices known for healing. Nutritionists suggest cinnamon for lowering glucose levels and for treating yeast infections, among other health benefits.

 

4. Myrrh

Myrrh
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Like frankincense in the Bible, myrrh was a valuable and holy anointing oil used for consecration—and given to baby Jesus by the Magi.

In John 19:39, Nicodemus used it to embalm the body of Jesus after his death, and in Esther 2:12, it was used as a perfume.

“Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.”

Today, it’s used in herbal medicine treatments (predominantly in China and Egypt) for pain relief and to treat wounds and infections.

 

5. Balsam Fir

Balsam Fir
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In the Bible, balsam was an oil that was used in consecration, perfume, and medicinal treatments. It was a valuable commodity that merchants brought from Arabia, as described in Genesis 37:25.

“Then they sat down to eat a meal. But as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying labdanum resin, balsam, and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt.”

Today, it’s a popular essential oil used in aromatherapy.

 

6. Cedarwood

Cedarwood Oil
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In the Bible, cedarwood oil was widely used for healing and cleansing. In Leviticus 14:4, it was especially used for the cleansing of healed lepers.

“The priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed.”

Nowadays, cedarwood oil is used as an aromatherapy treatment, a natural insect repellent, and an acne treatment, among other uses.

 

7. Sandalwood

Sandalwood Oil
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Sandalwood is referred to as “aloes” in the Bible. Aloes are mentioned four times in the Old Testament, often in the context of perfume. In John 19:39, it was mentioned as an embalming substance for Jesus’ body.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes.”

Today, sandalwood oil is an essential oil used widely in aromatherapy and considered helpful in treating anxiety, wounds, inflammation, and even some kinds of cancer.

 

8. Spikenard

Dried Spikenard
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In Scripture, nard was considered a pricey perfume as well as a topical ointment used for healing. In John 12:3, hours before Jesus’ burial, His friend Mary poured out nard to wash His feet.

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Nowadays, spikenard is still widely used as an essential oil in aromatherapy and is thought to be beneficial in treating inflammation, migraines, allergies, and insomnia.

 

9. Anise / Dill

Dill
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In biblical times, anise was a valuable spice that was used for tithing, along with mint and cumin. Jesus mentioned these spices when calling out the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

Biblical experts believe that anise was referring to the present-day herb, dill—which is highly esteemed by nutritionists for its antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

 

10 Ancient Biblical Locations You Can Still Visit Today

Malta
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For those of us who don’t live in the Middle East, biblical narratives can seem to unfold in a faraway place and time. These locations are associated with heroes of religious faith—and can therefore take on an almost mythical quality. But Scripture’s stories took place in real cities and towns, places the modern descendants of those ancient people currently call home.

What are these biblical locations like today? Here are 10 places you might read about in the Bible and the modern-day vibe they now inhabit.

10 Ancient Biblical Locations You Can Still Visit Today

 

What Did Jesus Look Like? How Artists Have Represented Jesus Through History

Jesus in Italian art
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What did Jesus look like?

Biblical authors weren’t particularly interested in describing His physical attributes, focusing instead on His character and actions. But that hasn’t prevented scores of artists across the centuries from depicting Him as they saw fit.

In our modern age—with buzz words like “cancel culture” and “cultural appropriation” swirling around us—some critics are offended by any rendering of Jesus that isn’t a Middle Eastern Jew. But there are differing opinions on this.

oil on the Bible
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Here are some ways that people are grappling with the question, “What’s the right way to depict Jesus in art?”

What Did Jesus Look Like? How Artists Have Represented Jesus Through History

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Jennifer Graham Kizer has written features and essays for over a dozen magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Health, Parents, Parenting, Redbook and TV Guide.

Brittany Ann Equipping Godly Women

About the author

Brittany Ann is an ECPA bestselling author of “Fall in Love with God’s Word” and “Follow God’s Will” and the founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping busy Christian moms find practical ways to go "all in" in faith and family. Her work has been featured on CBN, The Christian Post, Crosswalk, and more.

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