Chapter from Healing Plants of the Bible
Exodus 30:24: And of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin.
Job 42:14: And he called the name of the first Jemimah, and then the name of the second Keziah , and the name of the third Keren-happuch.
Ezekiel: 27:19: Dan also and Javan going to and fro, occupied in thy fairs, bright iron, cassia , and calamus were in the market.
Americans are not familiar with the spice “Cassia”. Cassia is a kissing cousin to cinnamon as its Latin name reveals. The Hebrew word ketziah or Kiddah refers to cassia, which to the novice smells and tests like cinnamon. To the modern palate cassia and cinnamon are too similar to be distinguished, to the Israelites they were apples and oranges. The flavour of cassia is not as pungent as cinnamon as it contains different proportions of aroma giving volatile oils. Like cinnamon, it was highly esteemed by the ancient Israelites, though less so than cinnamon.
The real shocker in this chapter is the fact that Moses could get his hands on cassia. Have a look on the map and imagine how you would get Cassia to Israel from China thousands of years before the age of planes and boats. Israel was on the ancient trade routes that linked Asia with Africa and Europe. The caravans moving east and west had to pass through Israel to get to their destinations. Moses and Solomon traded local goods for Cassia as the caravans passed through their lands. Cassia was a known article in Israel long before Moses came out of Egypt! It may have been available to the likes of Moses but it did not come without a healthy price attached. It was expensive and was used in the most sacred of rituals in temple practice.
The Israelites used it to consecrate temples, sacred objects, to make perfume, and as medicine. To understand its relevance and indeed the relevance of many of the biblical plants, you have to know a bit more about life in the biblical days. The ancients used a lot of incense in temple practices and at home. We see incense as something hippies burned around the house in the sixties to cover up the smell of marijuana cigarettes. In the Biblical days incenses were a part of life and certainly a part of temple practice.
The making of incense was a science and different incenses were used for different purposes. Some incenses were used to incite joy in people and others were used to make them feel closer to God. The incense maker knew how to craft incenses to alter peoples feelings. Cleopatra was said to have been able to seduce any man because she burned incenses that made it impossible for men to resist her charms. Cassia was one of the main substances used in incense making by the Israelites and many other ancient people.
In Exodus 30 we see cassia as an ingredient in a sacred oil to be used to anoint the tent, the ark, the table holding the arc, and Aaron’s sons who would be acting as the priests. This oil was so holy that it was not to be used for common purposes. In Exodus 30:33 we see just how holy it was, “Anyone who makes an ointment like it and who puts some of it upon a stranger must be cut off from his people.” Sacred incense, ointments, and perfumes were serious business and the misuse of them was tantamount to a death sentence.
The notion of using incense to alter your feelings is foreign to we modern people, but it was an accepted idea amongst the ancients. They knew exactly what each plant did to the consciousness of the smeller. I tried to find what the ancients thought cassia did for a persons emotions when used in perfume and incense and I couldn’t find much. The Tibetans still use incense in their medical practice today. I spoke to Dr.Christopher Hansard to see what they have to say about it.
“Cassia is used as an incense in difficult breathing or if a person has suffered a shock. It stimulates happiness and physical vitality. It was given to the best fighters to make them strong. It was used by soldiers to make them adept at war. It is good to use if you are going to have a confrontation with someone and you need to be mentally strong.” Though we don’t know exactly what the Israelites thought about cassia and its scent, chances are it is similar to what the Tibetans think about it today.
The Israelites believed that incense could alter their consciousness and increase their spiritual connection with God. Beyond this, ancient people often burned things to send pleasant scents up to God as a means of pleasing the almighty. This was certainly the case with the Israelites. Re-read Exodus 30 with this new found knowledge. The lines will take on a new meaning.
Cassia has a beguiling scent and it was well appreciated by the Ancient societies that had the opportunity to smell it. To the modern person it would smell almost identical to cinnamon. The Egyptians knew it and used it in the embalming process of their dead pharaohs, presumably to make the dead smell pleasant in their movement to the next life. Herodotus, born in 484 BC, spoke of it and Dioscorides discussed it in the first century AD. Many of the ancients were unaware of what a great distance the cassia had travelled before it got to the Holy Land. Herodotus thought it was an Arabian product, when in fact, it merely was shipped from the Arabian peninsula by the Arabian merchants.
Many of the Cassia shipments coming from the east ended up in an Arabian market town called Mosyllon or Meuzal.This spice market on the Arabian peninsula is referred to in Ezekiel 27:19 and must have been quite a site in the ancient world. Spices were brought from the four corners of the earth and were sold to traders coming from all over the Mediterranean region. The spices, such as cassia, would make their way from Meuzal to Tyre and from Tyre onto Israel. It was a long journey from China and it is stunning to realize substances were moving around the earth at such an early date.
People were quite impressed with the smell of cassia and still are. We don’t see it in North America, but supermarkets around the world have ground cassia in the spice section. Cassia is the bark of a tree native to southern China. The tree is related to the bay laurel tree. Most members of the Laurel family are loaded with fragrant oils. The oil contained in the bark and leaves of the cassia give it its characteristic smell. Cassia bark and oil distilled from the bark and the leaves have been traded items for thousands of years.
Many think cassia was one of the first spices to make a global journey. Its favour amongst mankind is manifest by its mention in Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel, Revelations. Cassia was worth its weight in gold, ivory, and frankincense. We already know it was seen as suitable as an offering to god. The Israelites were not the only ancient people to use it in their temple practice. We know that it was an offering at the Temple of Apollo in Miletus, 243 BC.
Though popular in incense making, it was also an article of medicine. It was mentioned by the ancient historians Theophrastus, Herodotus, Galen, Dioscorides, Pliny, and Strabo as being used in medical practice. Herodotus says that he learned of it from the Pheonicians. The western physicians used the spice in medicine early in history, the people that grew it, the Chinese, used Cassia from an even earlier date. We will first look at the plant from the Chinese perspective and then move onto what the ancient western physicians had to say about it.
The cassia tree is native to Kuang-si in southern China. In the past the best cassia was reported to have been grown in the Hsinchou prefecture. Though native to Kuang-si, its cultivation spread to various locations in southern China in response to the world demand. In China there are three varieties of the cassia tree distinguished by the colour of their flowers. The flower colours include white, yellow, and red. The flowers are just as fragrant as the bark and are used in scenting tea.
Cassia was first mentioned in the Chinese herbals in 2700 B.C. and it was one of the staples in the Chinese practice of medicine. Cassia is used to treat a lot of conditions, so many conditions it is difficult to get a basic understanding of the drug. It will be helpful to know a few basic actions of the plant as a means of understanding all these uses.
1.Cassia is a warming drug. People with cold hands and feet, chills, poor digestion, and sluggish thinking find it warms their body. It warms the body by increasing the circulation.
2.Cassia acts as an antibiotic and is active against bacteria in respiratory, digestive, and urinary infections. Its oils kill bacteria.
3.Cassia oil acts as a relaxant. For this reason it is used in stomach cramps, painful menstruation, asthma, muscle cramps, and in pain in general. It relaxes the muscle in blood vessels which leads to wider vessels, reduced blood pressure, and increased circulation.
4. Cassia is a healing drug. It stimulates the knitting together of broken tissue, whether internal or external.
The Chinese knowledge of the tree was passed to the ancient western physicians about the same time they received their first shipment of the spice. Because the knowledge passed from one culture to the next, a lot of similarities are seen in the way the western physicians used cassia in medicine. The ancient western physicians knowledge was then passed down to recent medical writers like Gerard,writing in 1597. This is what Gerard had to say about the plant. He mentions that both the bark and the oil were used in medical practice in his day.
Warming Agent: “Dioscorides writeth that it hath power to warme , and is if thinne parts, it is also drie and astringent, it provoketh urine, cleareth the eies, and maketh sweet breath.”
Anti-inflammatory: “The decoction brings down the menses, prevaileth against the bitings of venomous beasts, the inflammation of the intestines and reines .”
Warming Pain Killer: “The distilled water hereof is profitable to many, and for divers infirmities, it comforteth the weake, cold, and feeble stomacke, easeth the paines and freetings of the guts and intrales proceeding of cold causes,
The oile drawne chimically prevaileth against the paines of the brest , comforteth the stomacke, breaketh windinesse, causeth good digestion, and being mixed with some honie, taketh away spots from the face, being anointed therewith. Is used against the colnesse of the sinews all paines of the ioints, and also the paines and distemperature of the stomacke and breaste.”
Chemically speaking, cassia is loaded with chemicals that have proven the ancients thoughts on the drug to be quite accurate. It contains around 2% volatile oil composed of 90% cinnamaldehyde and a minor amount of eugenol. The bark also contains phenylpropanoids; furanofuranoid lignans; polysacharides; various minor monoterpenes, diterpenes, sesquiterpenes;and flavonoids including proanthocyanidins and tannins. It seems a boring list of chemicals but these ingredients are what make it a painkiller and a circulatory stimulant. Herbal medicines are made active by chemicals produced by the plant. Many times only the plant can make these chemicals. Science, in all of its wisdom, cannot recreate what the plant can do.
Because it is such a popular drug, Cassia has been well researched and many of the traditional uses have been verified by clinical research. As usual, the drugs used by the ancient physicians have been proven to work. Not that there was any doubt, but validation is nice to have for the doubters.
Cassia tea has been proven to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella typhi. More over it has been shown to slow down the spread of viruses as well, specifically the Asian flu virus A and the ECHO virus. It is active against gram positive bacteria and fungal infections as well. One of its traditional uses is to infections of many descriptions. It is also used to treat fever. Fever is caused by the body attempting to fight off an infection.
The oils in the plant cause vasodilation or the opening up of the blood vessels. When blood vessels open, blood rushes to the hands and feet, and they feel warmer. Blood runs to the digestive tract and as a result food is more rapidly and efficiently digested. With the vessels opened up, there is less pressure in the tubes, and blood pressure drops.
In a series of tests on animals, it has proven to effect the central nervous system. It has been shown to act as a sedative, decreasing activity in animals. It was found to counteract the effects of stimulants and to strengthen the action of other sedatives. Here is a rather unpleasant thought. It delays the convulsions that lead to death in animals that have been injected with strychnine.
The plant has been found to be powerfully anti-ulcerative and this action has been attributed to a propanoic acid and to its glucosides. This chemical has a protectant effect on cells, which means they are stronger and less prone to damage. Additionally, cassioside and cinnamoside have been proven to be anti-ulcer. This makes it very helpful in ulcerated conditions of the gut.
It is fascinating to realize that cassia contains chemicals that have been proven to calm the mind and create a more relaxed state. This may explain the Israelite use of it in temple incenses. By inhaling the vapours coming off burning cassia, one would feel more peaceful and contemplative. This is a better state to contemplate god than a stressed out state of nervousness. Cassia tea is a very relaxing beverage and one that modern people should use to counteract the incredibly nervousness that seems a part of our age.
Practically speaking cassia is easy to use, if you can get your hands on it. Some spice racks have it and others do not. When you have some in your hot little hands, a teaspoon added to a cup of water will do wonders to warm the extremities and relax the mind. It will do all the things the ancients said it would do! Headaches, pains, flu, stomach upset are made better with this pleasant beverage. As it has been shown to be active against the flu virus and treats many of the symptoms of flu, it is an ideal flu medicine.