When I was a little girl, we spent our summer days playing outside. I don’t remember ever putting on sunscreen, so sunburns were inevitable. We’d come in beet red and parched, and my mom would have us break off a piece of aloe vera to rub over the sunburns. We didn’t like being all gooped up with the slimy aloe vera, but it was all we knew to do to ease the sunburn. I never thought of my mom as an “herbalist” using “alternative medicine”. She was just a mom doctoring up her kids.
Fast forward 30 plus years, and here I am trying to do the same thing to my kiddos. Over the years, I never once questioned whether my mom’s use of aloe vera on us kids was the Christian thing to do or not. Subsequently, I never once questioned whether my own home remedies were “Christian” or not. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Lord and I want to live righteous before Him. I had just never thought about the possibility that treating my children with herbs could be seen as unbiblical by some folks. In fact, herbalism has often been wrongly labeled not only unbiblical, but occultic and paganistic.
With much prayer and study, I hope to dispel these falsehoods. The question presented is this, “Is it permissible for Bible believing Christians to use herbs for health and healing?” My goal in writing this series is to help others see that God has provided herbs as a blessing to man. And not only are they a permissible form of medicine for Christians, they are often a preferred form of medicine.
What is herbalism?
As I get into the details, I want to make sure that I define a few terms so that we are on the same page. When I use the term herbs, I am referring to plants and their constituents including roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, and in the case of trees, bark. I would also include honey and bee products as well. Although they are not considered herbs by definition, honey, pollen, propolis, and beeswax are all created with the help of plants derivatives and have many healing properties.
There are many practices that are often lumped in together with herbalism, but I want to make a clear distinction here. Herbalism does not include homeopathy, iridology, acupuncture, reflexology, muscle testing, and many other alternative forms of medicine. I will not be covering these practices in this article. Honestly, I have not done a great deal of research into these practices. I personally don’t feel at peace with using these types of therapies.
To sum it up, herbalism is simply using plants as medicine.
Where does true healing come from?
All true healing comes from God the Father. He has provided healing medicines and knowledgeable people to work as His hands and feet, but our faith should ultimately rest in Him and His sovereignty. This is a concept that was made real to me as I begin to study herbalism and use herbs to treat my family. For years I took my children to every well baby check up, made sure they had every shot on time, and didn’t hesitate to give them antibiotics for every illness that came up. In my mind, I was taking an active role in my child’s health. I would even go so far as to say I took pride in my care of my children.
What I didn’t realize was how much faith I was putting in doctors and immunizations and antibiotics. Sadly, I don’t remember ever praying that the Lord would protect my child from measles or whooping cough. I took it for granted that the immunizations I allowed them to receive would be their protectors. I didn’t have the same fervency in my prayers that I acquired once I started treating my children at home. I realized the error I had made in trusting in man and not the Lord. I still have much to learn in this area. I am so thankful that the Lord is gentle and long-suffering in teaching me His ways!
Herbs in the Bible
A couple of years ago, my children and I read a book entitled Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick. Galen was a Greek physician employed by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, continuing in service through the Emperor Septimius Severus. Galen was born into a wealthy family, thus allowing him to study at the Temple of Aesculapius and later travel to Corinth, then to Alexandria to further his studies. What is fascinating about Galen is that his ideas and medical practices were largely unchallenged for more than a thousand years. In fact, his ideas concerning the balance of the four humors (from his study of Hippocrates) led to the popular practice of blood letting, which unfortunately led to the death of George Washington just 200 years ago.
Another interesting fact about Galen is that he lived only a few short years after the time Christ lived on the earth. There was another physician living during this time period, perhaps better known to Christians. This was the beloved physician, Luke (Colossians 4:14), author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. We don’t have record of Luke’s medical practices. However, we know that as a physician in the first century, the only “medicine” available to Luke would have been herbal medicines. Part of the duties of a physician at this time were compounding herbal medicines for their patients.
As I began my herbal studies, I wanted to know what the Bible had to say about this topic. One thing that was impressed upon my heart as I read the Word was that modern Christians as a whole have distanced themselves so far from God’s original design that they often don’t recognize it as part of His blessings to us. This can be seen in many areas of our lives. For instance, until the last 100 years or so, no one questioned whether or not they would breastfeed their child. If you wanted your child to live, you nursed them. The only other option was finding another nursing mother who would nurse the baby for you if you couldn’t. So you see, there was never a question in women’s minds debating which was best — breast milk or formula. They knew that the Lord had marvelously created their bodies to provide for their young.
The same can be said for their healing practices. The Bible speaks in several places of medicines.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines.
But what were these medicines? What was it that was used as medicine?
In Luke 10:34, we see the good Samaritan binding up wounds with oil and wine. The wine would have provided antiseptic properties, while the oil would have served as a healing salve. In several places we see that the people used balms, ointments, and plasters as medicines (Jeremiah 8:22, 46:11, 51:8; Isaiah 1:6, 38:21). Perhaps the most telling verses are in Ezekiel and Revelations where we see the Lord providing leaves for medicine.
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
I have tried to compile a list of specific herbs listed or named in the Bible. This is a work-in-progress, as I am sure there are many I have missed.
aloes — Num 24:6, Psa 45:8, Pro 7:17, Son 4:14, Joh 19:39
anise — Mat 23:23
balm — Gen 37:25, 43:11, Jer 8:22, 46:11, 51:8, Eze 27:17
bay tree — Psa 37:35
calamus — Exo 30:23
cassia — Exo 30:24
cinnamon — Exo 30:23, Pro 7:17, Son 4:14, Rev 18:13
coriander seed — Exo 16:31, Num 11:7
cumin — Isa 28:25, 28:27, Mat 23:23
fitches (fennel) — Isa 28:25, 28:27
frankincense — Mat 2:11
garlic — Num 11:5
hyssop — Psa 51:7
juniper — 1Ki 19:4-5, Job 30:4, Psa 120:4
mint — Mat 23:23, Luk 11:42
mustard — Mat 13:31
myrrh — Pro 7:17
rose — Luk 11:42
rue — Luk 11:42
saffron — Son 4:14
spikenard — Jn 12:3, Son 4:14
wormwood (hemlock) — Jer 23:15
Question to Ask Ourselves
When choosing a method of health care, whether it is allopathic or naturopathic, Christians must weigh each decision in light of the Scriptures. I believe there are four important questions we can ask ourselves as we determine whether or not to use herbal medicine as a means of health care for our families.
Does it contradict the Word of God, His commandments or statutes?
When I am trying to discern whether or not something is permissible before God, I first look for direct commandments dealing with the subject. In the case of using herbs as medicines, I first found instances in the Bible where the Lord lets us know what is not permissible.
Practices Not Permissible
- occult practices
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
Because the use of herbs has been incorporated into many occult practice, we must distinguish between the evil practices accompanying the herbs and the use of the herbs themselves. Remember, the herbs themselves possess no power in themselves to heal, they are merely substances that encourage the body to do what it was designed to do more efficiently. Just as food gives nutrients to promote growth, herbs can both provide nutrients needed or solicit actions within the body.
- practices dishonoring the sanctity of life
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Even before conception, the Lord knows us and loves us. Every life is precious to the Lord. Every. Single. One. We must strive against the culture of death in this world, to make sure that we are doing everything possible in our being to protect life, even potential life.
As a woman of childbearing age, I must take every precaution to ensure I am not harming a baby in my womb. This means not taking certain herbs, which may have abortifacient properties, when I am pregnant (and being very cautious when I *might* be pregnant). Even natural substances can be harmful to babies in the womb, so we must be very, very careful in this regard.
Does it work with our bodies in a way that compliments how our bodies are created? Is it restorative?
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
There is a difference between helping to restore our bodies and forcing our bodies to work in ways that they were not designed for. For example, let’s say I am a married lady who has not been able to conceive after several years of marriage. I have discovered that my hormones are imbalanced and have decided to take herbal supplements to help balance my hormones in the hopes of getting pregnant. I am working to help restore my body and its functions.
On the other hand, there are several herbs that can be used to avoid pregnancy. These herbs cause the body to not do what it was created to do — procreate.
Are we practicing herbalism in a way that is abusive or detrimental to our bodies?
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
1 Corinthians 10:23
As I read this verse, I looked up the word expedient in the Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary. Expedient is to be suitable for the purpose, proper under the circumstance. And the word edify can mean to literally “build up”. When applied to the question of herbalism, we can ask ourselves “Do the herbs I am using build up my body and are they proper under the circumstances?”
Does herbalism bring glory to the Creator?
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
In all things, and in all types of medicine, we should aim to bring glory to God. Whether we are choosing a type of healthcare, a type of herb to use, or a condition to treat — we must ask ourselves “Does this bring glory to God?”
There are many things to consider when treating ourselves and our families with herbal medicine. One thing we can be thankful for is the gift God has given us! To answer the question, “Yes, I believe Christians should use herbs!”