Seed, Spade and Sword: The Bible In Context

Helping to illuminate biblical context and background

Dill – Anentum graveolens,  a typical, friendly member of the Apiaceae family

This is a question botanists have contemplated since Theophrastus, and I pose it you now:
What have these plants in common (and don’t answer that ‘they are all in my garden’…): parsley, parsnip, carrot,  anise, celery, chervil, coriander, caraway, cumin, dill, fennel, water hemlock, giant hogweed?

Give up?

These are all members of the large family of plants once called the Umbel Family (Umbelliferae) now called the Apiaceae family: aka – the Parsley or Carrot family of plants. The umbel name comes from one hall mark characteristic of the family – flowers shaped like umbrellas.

The family, which is named after the type genus Apium, is large, with more than 3,700 species spread across 434 genera; it is the 16th-largest family of flowering plants.

Caraway — Carum carvi

: the seed pods appear to be square in cross section: two seeds per pod

Apiaceae is the 16th  largest family of flowering plants boasting 434 genera of plants representing some 3,700 species. 225 of those genera are ‘old-word’ plants. Many of the species are plants named in scripture.  These are plants that would have abounded in the garden lands God granted us. These are plants we knew well when we wandered out of the Mesolithic and established our first villages in the cradles of civilization. They made tasty out foods, made fulsome our stews, sweetened our breath and helped cure our ailments. When the garden lands turned dry, these plants we preserved in our home gardens and on the small farms that served the cities. Celery is one of the oldest vegetables ever used in recorded history. The ancient Egyptians were known to gather wild celery from marshy seaside areas for food. Celery is a plant of many uses and little waste; the leaves and dried seeds make good seasoning; the outer ribs are best cooked and the inner ribs may be consumed raw because they are good for the heart.

The name Apiaceae comes from the Latin for bee apis and is the name of the type genus Apium. Bees love these plants and these plants love them right back with the nectar they offer in abundance. For people planting orchards or an apiary garden, these guys are extremely effective understory planting. Once established and while in bloom, you can always see bees and wasps circling around them.

The cumin plant (Cuminum cyminum)
The seeds have been used to treat digestive problems, fever and heart disease: one seed per pod

Aside from that, they provide some another interesting and valuable functions in the garden. Firstly their aromatic qualities make them pest deterrents. Just as the mint family, these plants produce aromatic oils that will mask the chemical scents of your garden veggie, thus keeping pest insects from finding them. Secondly, they are predators and pest parasites attractors. This means that the nectar provided by these flowers attract certain species of wasps that will either predate or parasitize pest insects. The hollow stems of their flowers are also an important habitat for these small wasps. Thus, having a collection of umbel species continuously flowering can provide great benefits for your garden; it’s like an immune system for your garden!  These are the some of the best companion plants for your garden.

Furthermore, most umbels are either a culinary or medicinal herb, or a vegetable, affording them many important uses. They are also tap-rooting, pioneer species making them suitable for almost any terrain and environment. They are generally either annual or biennial, and can be identified by their flowers which come from a central main stem and look like an upside down umbrella.

Daucus carota — aka Queen Anne's Lace — the wild carrot;
the modern domestic carrot is a variant of this plant.

But it ain’t all Queen Anne’s Lace and Parsley in this family. As with any big clan, this family also hosts some bad pretty bad relatives. Two in particular come to mind: the poisonous water hemlock (Cucita virosa) and what is perhaps the nastiest plant on the planet, the giant hogweed.

This is the Water Hemlock. It is a wetland plant. Note the wider spacing among the flower heads…

I read where folk trying to collect Queen Anne’s Lace or wild celery (Apium graveolens) accidently get water hemlock instead, so here, take a good look at the Hemlock versus Queen Anne’s Lace and the wild celery

Wild Celery (Apium graveolens) domestic celery is a variant of this plant known since ancient times.
The seeds are used to flavor soups and breads

The family also hosts the nastiest plant I know: the giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegaz-zianum). The hogweed is a native of New Zeeland ( I also read: native of Central Asia), which some benighted fool brought over to Europe and the Americas; it is very,, very toxic. If you think you see one, call in your State or County experts! Do not try to get rid of it on your own. However, its size betrays it; it will stand between 8 to 20 feet tall.  Anyone remember the movie: ‘Day of the Triffid’? Hogweed is triffid on steroids, but this plant is real and really dangerous and not at all a fairy tale. But it is undoubtedly Apiaceae. Just look at it.

Giant Hogweed courtesy of the NYS DEC. Note, the worker wears a disposable coverall.  Removal involves bagging before cutting and burning in a sealed commercial incinerator. The overalls and gloves got to go, too!

So where are Apiacieae named in the Bible?  You will find coriander in Exodus, 16:31.  

And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey

Matthew 23:23 named dill and cumin.

Woe to you teaches of the law and Parisees, you hypocrites. You give a tenth of your spicesmint,, dill and cumin...

Isaiah names cumin and caraway: 28:  25 & 27, respectively

When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot?  (NIV)

Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick. (NIV)

I’ll leave to you the fun of finding more cites of members of the remarkable family Apiaceae..

So there you have the Apiacieae: a great and useful family of plants. These have been our constant friends since we left the Garden. These are easily grown in any temperate zone and should be your go-to plant for companion planting.

You can establish a Biblical Botanical Garden in a window box or two using only the members of this family.

It is that easy.

Shalom.

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Tags: Apiaceae, caraway, carrot, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip, More…water_hemlock

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