Exploring Essential Oils in Ancient Biblical Times

Let's step back in time to explore the ancient world of essential oils as referenced in the Bible. While essential oils have experienced a recent surge in popularity, it may come as a surprise to many that their use dates back centuries, intertwining with religious and spiritual practices.

The Bible contains over 1,000 references to plants, herbs, and precious oils. These references not only shed light on their historical significance but also offer valuable insights into the myriad of ways these oils were used in ancient times. The biblical references to essential oils offer us a profound understanding of their true power and potential, reclaiming their status as timeless treasures with remarkable therapeutic qualities.


Having been raised as Pharaoh’s grandson and prince of Egypt, Moses would have been taught about these essential oils and their history as mentioned above. In addition, all the Hebrews who worked with Egyptians would have been involved with essential oils in some capacity.

Daily applications of essential oils in Biblical times were extensive. Seventy percent of the books of the Bible mention essential oils, their uses, and/or the plants (at least 33 species)  from which they are derived, starting in Genesis 1 and ending in Revelation 22. 1,035 references!!

The most famous, of course, are the Wise Men bringing frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. 

The Biblical term translated as “spices” applies to oils, gums, and resins as well as to whole dried spices. It is the oil content of a spice that supplies its flavor and aroma. However, the “spices” of the Bible would rarely resemble the crushed, ground, and powdered versions we purchase in grocery stores today.


• Genesis 1:11-12 - "God pronounced His grass, plants, and trees as “Good.”

• Genesis 1:29-30 - “the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” The actual  Hebrew word translated as food (or meat) is “oklah.” It literally means, “that which is eaten,” which can include not only food/nourishment but also medicine. The Ancient Greek doctors as well as other ancient doctors understood this phrase commonly  said today, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.”

• Genesis 2:8-9 - “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden… and out of the ground  made the Lord God grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” 

We know that natural aromas are more than just pleasant. They are emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically healing. The Garden of Eden - the original aromatherapist’s garden! 

The Smoky Mountains get their name from the mist of essential oils emitting from the trees. The temperature and humidity are just right to create that smoky haze.

• Genesis 35:14 - “he poured oil thereon.” Jacob poured oil on a stone pillar to seal a covenant between him and God.

• Genesis 37:12-25 - “Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their  camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh.” The first time specific essential oils are mentioned. 

• Genesis 43:11 - “Carry down the man a present, a little balm,  and a little honey, spices, and myrrh …” Gifts sent by Jacob to the man in Egypt over dispersing the grain during the famine. 

• Genesis 50:2 - “Joseph commanded his servants the  physicians to embalm his father.” We know from the hieroglyphs inside Egyptian temple walls they used essential oils for this purpose. Cedarwood, Frankincense, and myrrh were always used in the embalming process; other oils, such as rosemary, juniper, and cinnamon, were also known to be used.

• Exodus 30:23-24 - the recipe by God to Moses to make the holy anointing oil made up of myrrh, cassia, cinnamon,  calamus (which may actually be cannabis), and olive oil. The actual weight measurements were given, and from the recipe itself, olive oil would have been only 16% of the entire mix. This mixture was to be used to anoint things of the Tabernacle as well as to anoint Aaron and his sons. 

• Exodus 30:34-35 - Another recipe by God, used for incense burning, and given to Moses specifically  for therapeutic purposes, as the verse specifies to make it “after the art of the apothecary.” Today we would use a diffuser for similar results.

Keeping a supply of the incense and anointing oils needed for daily use in the temple was up to the priests. They are referred to as “apothecaries” and “perfumers.” 

• Numbers 16:46-50 - Aaron uses incense to stop a plague

• Ezekiel 47:12 - “The fruit thereof shall be for meat and the leaf thereof for medicine.” 

• Leviticus 14:17 - Evidence of priest using reflexology with essential oils of cedarwood and hyssop. • Several verses - Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers - state that certain foods were anointed with oil and then eaten. 

• Esther 2:12 - “(six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things  for the purifying of the women)”

• Psalm 45:7-8 - Oil of gladness made up of myrrh, aloes (sandalwood), and cassia, “whereby they  have made you glad.”

• Psalm 51:7 - “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:”

• Psalm 133:2 - “Precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard.”

The word “precious” was never applied to vegetable oils but always to essential oils, such as cassia, hyssop, frankincense, spikenard, and others. The words translated from the Hebrew and Greek as “anoint” meant “to cover, rub, or smear the head or body (or object) with oil.

• Proverbs 21:20 - "There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise.” 

• Proverbs 27:9 - “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart.” These words were aromatic oils. 

• Matthew 2:11 - “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” My personal opinion is that gold here refers to  an oil, of which there are a few possibilities, such as Balm or Balsam oil 

• Mark 6:13 - “anoint the sick with oil and heal them.” (Therapeuo) 

• Mark 15:23 - Myrrh mixed with wine given to those being crucified as a pain reliever 

• John 12:3 - “a pound of ointment of spikenard” 

• John 19:39 - “a mixture of myrrh and aloes (sandalwood), about a hundred-pound weight.”  This would be equivalent to around $150,000-200,000 today. 

• Philippians 4:18 - Paul refers to “a fragrant offering” as an acceptable gift “and pleasing to God,” which is a reference to the aromas of the essential oils used in the incenses, anointing oils, and sacrifices of worship among Jews and early Christians. 

• II Corinthians 2:15-16 - “We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ,” a description of devout  Christians 

• Ephesians 5:2 - Christ “has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a  sweetsmelling savor.” 

Whether you are new to the world of essential oils or an experienced enthusiast, this exploration of biblical references should expand your knowledge and deepen your appreciation for these powerful botanical extracts. I hope reading the scriptures inspires and empowers you to embrace the ancient traditions of aromatherapy and weave them seamlessly into your modern lifestyle.

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