Biblical Aromatherapy



, , , ,

Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that has, in recent years, been associated with the New Age philosophy or eastern religious practices. However, not many people think of the bible when they hear mention of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy was used frequently in the bible, although not in the form that aromatherapy is used today.


Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils obtained from plants for therapeutic benefit. In biblical times the essential oils were not often extracted and the plants were used mainly as infusions – spices were added to a carrier oil (usually olive oil) and the essential oils diffused into the oil, permeating the olive oil with the scent and properties of the spices it contained. The spices were obtained from grinding the pertinent parts of the plant into a powder. They may also have put whole leaves, flowers or roots into the olive oil. We still use this technique in aromatherapy today, but in many cases we use the more concentrated essential oils that have been extracted through various techniques.


The most notable mentions of aromatherapy, and the most detailed, are the formulas God provided the Israelites in Exodus chapter 30 for creating the anointing oil and temple incense. However, there are also wedding fragrances mentioned in Song of Songs and beauty treatments in Ester. Medicinal, cleansing and embalming applications are also noted throughout the bible.


Looking at aromatherapy in a Christian context begs the question: Why would God, who created the plants and gave them the medicinal properties they possess, not want us to make use of His creation? A study of the bible answers that question. I will be looking more closely at each of these biblical applications and the plants used for each. There is much we can learn about aromatherapy from the bible if we can only look past the religious connotations and practices that have been applied to it in the 21st century.


Faith vs. Fear


, ,

I had a thought. It was not an original thought. I’m sure many people have had the same thought and have delved more deeply into the implications of it. It is also not a particularly productive thought. No amount of speculation has ever changed the past and it is not likely to change the world in the future in any way. But it was a thought that I had and it has stuck with me for nearly two weeks now and so I thought it best to give it wings and watch it fly. I’ll see where this thought takes me.


This thought started with John 19, where Jesus is taken before Pilate for sentencing before he was crucified. Pilate was trying to find a reason to free him because he was genuinely afraid of what would happen to him if he sentenced Jesus to death. John 18:36-37 (NIV):

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Pilate believes Jesus and says to the Jews in verse 14 of chapter 19, “Here is your king.” The Jews respond in verse 15 (NIV):

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

They rejected Jesus as their king and as a result he was crucified.


This reminded me of the way the Israelites reacted after the scouts returned from Canaan. The land was heavenly, fruitful and beautiful; but giants (Nephilim) lived there and the people were afraid. They were so gripped by fear that they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb for suggesting that they could defeat the people of Canaan because God was on their side. Numbers 14 details God’s response to their unbelief and his judgement on them: That they would wonder the desert for 40 years – one year for each day the scouts were in the land – and eventually die there. Their children would also suffer for their faithlessness by becoming shepherds for 40 years. But they would at least would enter the land promised to them.


What would have happened if the people had not lost faith, allowing their fear to overcome them? They had witnessed countless miracles and yet they still had no faith that God could, and would, deliver them as He promised. Had they believed and lived fearlessly, they would have entered the Promised Land and not lived out the last of their days in a harsh nomadic environment. They could have had heaven on earth.


By extension, what would have happened if the Jews had not rejected Jesus as king? Would the kingdom of heaven have been established on earth right then? Would we have been spared from wondering in a spiritual desert and already have been enjoying the eternal glory of heaven now. Of course, if that had happened, the prophesy would not have been fulfilled and the gentiles would not have been saved. Possibly none of us would even exist right now and it would go completely against God’s plan. But, for a moment, just ignore all the details and imagine what could have been had the Jews claimed Jesus as king.


I wonder what other moments we are each missing out on. What paradises have we walked away from because of our own fear? How many miracles in our lives have we forgotten when confronted with the seemingly impossible ahead of us? When our fear overwhelms our faith; we are lost. We are left to wonder in our own personal desert until we are willing to conquer our fears through faith. What are you afraid of? What would you do if you had faith enough to overcome that fear?

Aromatic Fruits: Peace


, , ,

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones

– Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

Peace can be difficult to comprehend in a life coloured with war, hatred, and senseless violence. In a world so consumed with selfishness and justifications, phrases like inner peace and world peace seem to have lost all meaning and become nothing more than mere catch phrases. But the peace that comes from knowing God is so much more attainable than anything the world has to offer, or give lip service to.

That said; peace does not descend on us like a happy cloud of obliviousness just because we know God. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:34 (NIV):

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This life is not meant to be free from struggles and pain. It is meant to test us and our faithfulness to God, in spite of the struggles and pain that we will inevitably face. But we are, thankfully, not left to make it through alone. When Jesus left the earth he said,

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”

– John 14: 26-27 (NIV)

What a comforting thought that is. Paul reminds us of this inherent peace we have with Christ and he explains it further to us in Romans 5:1-5 (NIV):

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

That really says it all and just reading that fills me with such peace and hope. It is almost a shame to continue on from that with my associated essential oil. For me, the woody and sweet smell of Frankincense is the most peaceful fragrance. And it seems so appropriate that it is one of the gifts attributed to the Magi when they sought him out at birth:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And h will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

– Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

Aromatic Fruits: Forbearance


, , , , , ,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

  • Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)


My fruit for today, forbearance, is defined as patience, long suffering, keeping silent, tolerating an offence or indulging an offender or enemy. I wouldn’t say I have any enemies, however, there are several people who do offend me. This past month has been particularly difficult and I feel like I have “doormat” tattooed on my forehead. Or possibly “naïve”. Normally I am a very patient person, tolerating and forgiving many offenses no matter how often they occur. However, when I feel as though my children are being threatened, my patience and tolerance ends instantly. Do what you will to me, but do not put my children in any kind of danger, whether it is immediate or latent.


Perhaps my recent struggle with this fruit is because I feel as though I am expected to tolerate interference into my children’s personal lives and development. I do not believe that is something that should be tolerated or indulged. When it comes to my children and their emotional and social well-being, my children come first and virtual strangers come nowhere. That’s probably not something I should admit to because it seems terribly uncharitable, but there it is. My family comes before people who just want to get what they can from us by any means they deem necessary. I have tried to be patient and tolerant, while at the same firmly putting my foot down to ensure my children don’t become doormats to those with stronger personalities. It is a fine line though, and one I’m not entirely sure I am keeping my big stomping feet on.


Is there a balance between being firm and tolerant? I’m not sure. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV) says,

 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens

The time to be silent is gone for now and at this time, in this moment, it is my time to speak. The time to be silent will come again, when this season has passed. I am not going to fly off the handle and burn the world down. But I will be putting my foot down very solidly until this season is over, and only in this situation. The struggle for me is to separate moments and not allow my irritation to spill into other areas of life. Or to allow my irritation to influence how I deal with the situation.  I will continue to make a concerted effort to forebear as much as I can, which is a hang of lot, I think.


As for the essential oil I associate with forbearance or patience, I would have to go with Neroli. Also known as orange blossom, Neroli is extracted from the flowers (or blossoms) of the orange tree (Citrus aurantium var. vugaris). It is a delightful combination of fruity and floral and I have always loved the scent. When I feel agitated and impatient, a long deep breath of Neroli calms my nerves and my mind like nothing else can. I can’t explain why and there is no associated memory that fills me with patience and tolerance when I smell Neroli. It is just one of my favourite scents that so happens to help me hold back any rash emotional impulses.

Aromatic Fruits: Joy


, , ,

I didn’t intend to go in the same order as the verse, but I have been wanting to write on joy since I came up with the idea of matching the fruit of the Spirit up with essential oils that are meaningful to me. In fact, this was the only essential oil I had linked to a fruit at first. I have been very busy for the past two weeks, but this topic has been at the back of my mind and I am very glad to finally have a chance to write it.


First, I need to clarify what joy means to me. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. I see happiness as a fleeting, superficial emotion that is dependent on external stimuli; while joy is a deep well in the soul that bubbles and splashes around playfully, cleansing the mind from the inside. Joy is not constrained by the situation.


I have experienced depression. You would think that depression is the opposite of joy and, in many ways, that is true. My depression was absent of all hope and happiness, but looking back I can see that it was my joy that got me through. I may not have felt it, but underneath all the pain, self-doubt, and hopelessness there was a deep well; still and calm but sparkling and clear. Untouched by the darkness and poison that ran through my mind and heart. It was that joy that prompted me to find one thing to smile about in a week, or in a month. And it was that joy that allowed me to fake a smile and a laugh and pretend to be happy for an hour or an afternoon. It was that joy that eventually helped me to get through my depression and focus on those things that I love and that make me happy. Although I could not feel it, it was there. I am surprised when people tell me that I’m always smiling. I’m still surprised every time, and I get told that a fair amount, so you would think I would be used to it. Even when I felt that my heart would shatter and my face would crack if I had to pretend to be happy; it seems my inner joy was completely bypassing my heart and my face and I was still always smiling – enough for it to be worthy of mentioning by people who didn’t know what lay behind my smile. Admittedly, it made asking for help very difficult. And when I did eventually speak out it came as an enormous shock to those who were closest to me.


I may be projecting my own thoughts and opinions here, but I do believe that Christ did not live a happy life on earth. His life was marked by pain, loneliness, temptation, and inevitability. As Isaiah says:


He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

  • Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)


However, at the same time, he had joy. That joy sustained him and gives us hope:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

  • Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)


The cross was shameful and painful; but through it Christ had joy because he knew what waited for him after it was done – perfect joy. He is our hope and our joy. Because of his example we can be sure that we can endure anything that comes our way. And because of his sacrifice, after all our struggles are over, we have pure joy waiting for us. My prayer for you as you read this comes from Romans:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Romans 15:13 (NIV)


Among my earliest memories are family holidays in Mtunzini when we went to visit my grandparents. There was the sea, which has always been my happy place. But the breakfasts always stand out in my mind – an enormous table (at least it seemed enormous when I was so small, now it isn’t actually all that big) with an enormous breakfast that included honey, Granny’s homemade jams (tomato jam is still my favourite), and grapefruits the size of my head (again, my head was smaller back then, but that is still a big grapefruit). Every time I smell grapefruit essential oil my heart is taken back to that breakfast table, listening to Grampa reading that day’s passage from the bible and watching Granny spreading jam on toast. It fills me with joy and contentment like no other essential oil can do.

Aromatic Fruits: Love


, ,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

 – Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)


I have had a bit of time now to pull myself together and I thought for this post I would move on to love. As I said last week, love is easy to show to those you love; but not so easy for those you don’t really like. I decided to investigate what the bible says about love. My concordance has over 3 pages of instances where love is mentioned throughout the bible – and each page has three columns! Going through the verses we can derive two different types of descriptions of love: a description of God’s love for us and a description of what our love should be like.


Over and over again the scriptures proclaim God’s unfailing love. His love is eternal and unwavering. It doesn’t depend on our love for Him or our own righteousness (something we can all be very grateful for, I’m sure). His love for us is also self-sacrificing.


So, what should our love look like? I have been going through the letters of John in my devotions and came across this verse:

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

– 2 John 1:6


This verse may be referring to Joshua:

But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.

– Joshua 22:5

But I think Jesus’ words should also be taken into account when reading the letter from John which, incidentally, were related in the gospel of John:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

– John 13:34


So ultimately our love, or our fruit, should mirror the love of Christ. Our love should be slow to anger, forgiving (see Proverbs 10:12 and Proverbs 17:9), constant (see Proverbs 17:17), sincere (see Romans 12:9), and given equally to brothers (and sisters) as well as to our enemies (Matthew 5:44).


Essentially, according to 1 Corinthians 13, love is all the fruit of the Spirit rolled into one way of being. And this makes sense, since the concluding verse of this passage says

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


The essential oil I associate with love is rose. But before you roll your eyes and groan at the predictability of it, please read my reason for this. I love my Mom. My Mom loves me too, but more relevant to the topic, she also loves her roses. She had a rose garden with a different variety of rose carefully selected for each woman in her life whom she loved (I’m sorry I killed your rose garden Mom!). Whenever I think of my Mom, I think of roses and I always try to use rose in every blend that may be used by my Mom (or on my Mom). So, as you see, my association of Rose essential oil with the fruit of love, has nothing whatsoever to do with convention.


The second reason I associate Rose with Love is because one of my favourite songs is Above All by Michael W Smith…

Like rose, trampled on the ground

You took the fall and thought of me

Above All


Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

 – John 15:13

Aromatic Fruits: Faithfulness


, ,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

  • Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)


Following on from my crocodile post, I thought I would give my personal favourite essential oils for each fruit of the spirit. I don’t know anyone who can honestly say they have mastered each fruit, myself least of all. Regardless, I figured I could start off with the easier ones for me. It turns out, I am not as fruitful as I thought I was. This is particularly true for the past week, during my search for the perfect shower crème and shampoo recipes.


All testing of products is conducted on myself first, and so my erroneous trials have put my peace, joy, gentleness, forbearance, and self-control to the test; resulting in further spiritual errors on my part. I did not throw the bottle of body wash against the wall though, so perhaps there is still hope for my self-control. I am not one to waste ingredients, even flops. I will eat that burnt cookie, drink the improperly set fridge tart, and try my best to wash myself with the contents of bottles that neither lather nor clean. That doesn’t mean I have to be cheerful about it… ummm. Anyway, moving on…


I thought I might be able to turn to love, my one fruit that I feel like I am pretty secure in. Upon further reflection, I realised that love is easy to show to those you love (obviously). But to others, the ones you don’t really know and don’t particularly want to know, it is not quite so easy. Particularly when you are growing steadily more frustrated with inanimate objects and cosmetic chemistry. Other interpretations of this verse use the word charity in place of love, and I have not been particularly charitable. I have felt horrid about it, but have still battled with this particular fruit. So perhaps not the best one to start with.


Every time I read this list I tend to glance over the word FAITHFULNESS. It seems so vague. Yet, what it means is unwavering, unaltered devotion. Considering my personal battlefield of late, faithfulness was at times the only fruit I had. I had the perfect example to follow because God has been faithful to me; and His faithfulness was an ever-present lifeline that I could hold onto, even when I had wandered. His grace has saved me and taught me the true meaning and value of faithfulness. It is so much deeper than the worldly interpretation of faithfulness.


When I think of faithfulness in the context of aromatherapy, my mind instantly goes to Lavender. I have never stopped using Lavender. I have used it for years and I use it in almost everything. Lavender has never let me down – erasing burns like they never happened, stopping itching or stinging from insect bites (or stings), easing headaches, etc. Lavender essential oil may not be derived from a fruit, but it is most certainly my old faithful.

Extracting Essential Oils


, , , , , , ,

Medicinal and aromatic plants have species specific chemical components that give them their unique properties. These are the “active ingredients” if you will. Modern medication is made up of active ingredients which have been mixed with other stuff so that it can be made into a readily ingested and absorbed form allowing the active ingredient to have the desired effect. Plants are not just active ingredients, there is a lot of plant material containing the active ingredients. The plant oils, or essential oils, tend to accumulate in greater concentrations in different parts of the plant; such as the flowers (rose, lavender, jasmine); leaves (mint, lemongrass); stems (geranium, patchouli); bark (cinnamon, cassia); wood (sandalwood, cedar); resin (myrrh, frankincense); roots (angelica, vetiver); rhizomes (ginger, calamus); fruit (orange, juniper); or seeds (fennel, coriander). The essential oils are the concentrated active ingredients of the plant and there are several different ways in which these essential oils can be extracted from plants.


Technically, true essential oils are extracted through mechanical means or distillation – using either water, steam, or a combination or recombination of the two. Aromatic plant oils extracted through other means can be called concretes, absolutes, resinoids or pomades, depending on the technique used to extract the oils. In biblical times, the most likely methods of extracting plant oils were distillation or expression [1]. This means that true essential oils have been in use for longer than we have historical records for. Olive oil was an oil of enormous economic and cultural importance and has been extracted through cold pressing for millennia. The Egyptians used distillation and expression for the oils used in embalming rituals. The following is a brief description of the most commonly used methods of extraction.


Distillation is the most commonly used extraction method and may be one of the oldest. There are records of distillation being used by Arabs 3000BC but the technique may have been discovered as far back as the Indus Culture about 5000 years ago [2]. Distillation involves passing either water or steam through the plant material. The heat of the water or steam releases the phytols from the plant cells and they are carried into the collection section of the apparatus. The essential oils do not mix with water, and so they are siphoned off the water (which is then known as a hydrosol or floral water).


Expression is a mechanical extraction technique also known as cold pressing – basically squeezing the essential oils out. In order to get all the essential oils possible, it is rinsed with water and then the essential oils (which do not mix in water because it is a different weight) are separated out. This technique was certainly used in ancient Egypt to extract citrus oils. Due to the fairly simple technique (if you’ve ever been misted by an orange while peeling it, you will know how simple it is), it is likely that this method has been around for longer than distillation has.


CO2 extraction is similar to distillation, except that instead of water, highly pressurised liquid carbon dioxide is passed through the plant matter. The carbon dioxide turns into a gas at a much lower temperature than the essential oils, and so evaporates leaving only the essential oils.


Enfluerage is an old, costly, and mostly redundant form of extraction, which makes use of a layer of fat or wax (known as a chassis) onto which the plant material is placed. The oils diffuse into the fat or wax and, once the plant material has been replaced a number of times, the essential oils are separated from the chassis using alcohol. Once the alcohol has evaporated we are left with the essential oils known as an absolute.


Some plants have higher concentrations than others. For example, when peeling an orange, you will often get stains on your fingers from the essential oils in the peels. However, jasmine flowers are a completely different story – for one drop of essential oil, about 190 jasmine flowers are needed. This also explains why some essential oils are more expensive than others – not because they are more effective, but because they are scarcer.



  1. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “Cultural and Historical: Perfumes and Anointing Oils,” in Archaeological Study Bible, Michigan, Zondervan, 2005, p. 1746.
  2. E. Schmidt, “5. Production of Essential Oils,” in Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications, 2nd edition, London, CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group, 2016, pp. 127-162.

Aromatherapy for the Soul


, , , ,

Aromatherapy has an element of nostalgia to it. Scents can remind you of people or events in your life and arouse the emotions that were associated with them. Certain previously encountered aromas can trigger strong emotional responses.


For example, I used to wear a particular deodorant when I was studying at university. CrocodileOne year we had a Zoology project for Anatomy and Physiology that involved a year-old culled crocodile and the mounting of its bones. I was in my element! I loved every step of the process. There was the skinning and defleshing, the boiling of the carcass to make the remaining flesh and connective tissue gel-like and easier to remove. Then there was the scrubbing of the bones, de-greasing in ammonia, bleaching in peroxide and then re-articulation (the best 3D puzzle I have ever done!!). I was up to my elbows in crocodile goop and loving it.


My mom, on the other hand, was not quite so happy. Like the supportive mother she is, she would bring me coffee while I worked (read: had fun) and watch in morbid fascination until disgust got the better of her. By the way, she was not too happy about her pot being used for the boiling; or the crocodile brains that got squirted over the driveway by the garden hose. But like all things, the project came to an end, leaving only memories. Happy ones for me, but nauseating ones for my mom. For the next few months, every time I would walk into a room, my mom would comment on how she smelled dead crocodile. Eventually we realised that the smell of my deodorant had become connected in her memories with the dead crocodile. Needless to say, I had to change my deodorant and my mom never smelled dead crocodile again.


Because of the nostalgic element of scents, the same aroma can elicit different emotional responses from different people. What is calming for one person could be a trigger for anxiety for another person. A scent that causes joy for some; may cause sadness for others. Aromatherapy for the mind, heart and soul is very personal and cannot be prescribed according to a universal standard. After all, my crocodile experience was completely different to my mom’s crocodile experience.

Athlete’s Foot Cream


, , , , ,

The cocoa butter and olive oil used in this cream are soothing for inflamed and infected skin. The coconut oil is not only nourishing, but also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. The essential oil blend adds to those anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory effects. Patchouli is anti-fungal but also speeds healing and soothes inflamed skin. Peppermint can be used for a variety of skin conditions and infections and provides relief from itching and redness. Lavender has a soothing effect on inflamed and itchy skin and combats a wide variety of organisms, including fungi. Myrrh is an incredibly useful healing oil and is effective in treating many skin ailments such as athlete’s foot.

Caution: It is not advisable to use this cream during pregnancy or on children under the age of 7 years.

Some essential oils can cause sensitivity and if sensitivity does occur, discontinue use.

While the essential oils do provide a degree of preservation to the cream, it is advisable to use the cream within 3 months. My products are made to order to extend the shelf life for as long as possible.

Quantity: 50 ml

Price: R100 (excluding shipping)

Please place all orders through the Contact page

Essential Oils For Burial and Embalming


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This topic is particularly exciting for me as it is based on those things that interest me the most: the Word of God, biblical archaeology, and the science behind essential oils.


The burial of Jesus in John 19:38 – 40 (NIV) describes the preparation of his body following his crucifixion and death:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

Jewish burial customs dictated that a body could not be left in the city overnight, and so had to be prepared for burial and buried on the same day as death occurred. The aloes used in this verse are unique, and not the same species of aloe mentioned in the Old Testament of the bible. They are also not the same as the versatile and well-known aloe vera we use today for many applications. According to a number of sources, the species of aloe used in the New Testament and ancient embalming practices is Aloe succatrina [1] [2]. This is a member of the lily family and the extract from the fleshy leaves has no scent of its own. The myrrh was added to the aloe sap before being used to prepare a body for burial.


Not only was Jesus’ body prepared according to Jewish burial customs, but also according to the norms for the late Roman period. The body was typically wrapped in shrouds which were either sprinkled or pasted with aromatic resins and perfumes. The shrouds were most often strips of fabric, but in some instances whole sheets of linen were used to wrap the deceased. Some bodies were encased in plaster. Archaeological evidence reveals that plant exudates from the sub-family Pinaceae (pines, firs and larches) and the Burseraceae family (frankincense being the most well-known in this family) were often used in the preparation of a body for burial. Species belonging to the genus Pinus (Pine), Boswellia (which is made up of 23 species including frankincense or olibanum), and Pistacia (including mastic and terebinth) were important in burial rituals; either as a symbol of mourning, or a means of preparation for burial. The aromatic perfumes and resins used in burials had a dual purpose. Perhaps the more obvious reason to use perfumes and aromatic resins is to mask the inevitable smell of decay. The other purpose is related to the chemical properties of the oils, which slow the process of decay and protect the body from insect scavenging [3].


Embalming is also mentioned in the bible and was a different process to that of burial and was not in use in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death. This practice was adopted from Egypt and was the method of interment used by Joseph and his father, Israel, who were embalmed by Egyptian physicians (see Genesis 50:2, 26). It is believed that Joseph was in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom period when Sesostris II and Sesostris III were pharaohs. This would place his death and embalming between 1878 BC and 1843 BC [4]. When a body was being prepared for embalming, the insides were taken out (to be delicate about it) and the body cavity stuffed with natron (a salt made up of sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate), linen cloths and bandages soaked in resin. The body was then soaked in natron (a powdered form at the time of Joseph’s embalming) for a period of 40 days to allow complete desiccation. The internal stuffing would be replaced with fresh packages of sawdust mixed with plant extracts such as myrrh, frankincense, cassia cinnamon, and other aromatic resins. Sometimes they might throw in a couple of onions too (I found that amusing. I wonder who first had the thought to stuff an onion inside). Balms made from beeswax or hot liquid resins would then be applied to the body to seal it from absorbing atmospheric moisture. These balms and resin coatings contained wood oils, spices, perfumes and aromatic resins [5]. For rich nobles, the body would then be wrapped in bandages soaked in resins and placed in a rectangular coffin. This is likely the procedure that was used to embalm Israel and Joseph.


The resins and sawdust that were used during the embalming process belonged to coniferous trees such as pine, juniper, or cedar wood. Juniper cones (Juniperus phoenicea) are often found in Egyptian graves, and so it is reasonable to believe that they would have been used in the embalming process too. Other essential oils discovered in the embalming materials of well-preserved mummies belong to cedar wood (Cedrus librani), pine (Pinus sp.), juniper (Juniperus communis), mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), myrrh (Commiphora sp.), cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), onions (Allium cepa), lichen (Peltigera canina), and henna (Lawsonia inermis) [5].


Both burial and embalming, while being very different procedures, used similar plant extracts. These included pine, mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), terebinth (also known as turpentine tree, Pistacia terebinthus L) [3], and frankincense. Myrrh is another aromatic resin that was used in both burial customs and embalming procedures [6]. These plant extracts, or more accurately the chemical components that are contained in the essential oils, are antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal, and insects. These properties would have provided the bodies of departed loved ones with some protection from the natural processes of decay; and preserved the remains for as long as possible.



  1. Z. Wlodarczyk, “Review of Plant Species Cited in the Bible,” Folia Horticulturae, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 67-85, 2007.
  2. M. C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974.
  3. R. C. Brettell, E. M. Schotsmans, P. Walton Rogers, N. Reifarth, R. C. Redfern, B. Stern and C. P. Heron, “’Choicest unguents’: Molecular Evidence for the Use of Resinous Plant Exudates in Late Roman Mortuary Rites in Britain,” Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 53, pp. 639-648, 2015.
  4. C. Aling, “Joseph in Egypt: Part 1,” Associates for Biblical Research, 18 February 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 14 June 2017].
  5. G. Abdel-Maksoud and A.-R. El-Amin, “A Review on the Materials used During the Mummification Processes in Anicent Egypt,” Mediterranean Archeaology and Archaeometry, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 129-150, 2011.
  6. G. W. Van Beek, “Frankincense and Myrrh,” The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 69-95, 1960