Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is known to be part of the parsley family, and is most well known for being a main ingredient within curry powder and other Indian recipes. The leaves of cumin can be cut and used within green salads and its seeds have culinary as well as medicinal uses. Mussleman (2007:107) notes that the plant is valued for its seed, which is usually ground into a spice and “used to flavour bread pastries and other dishes.”
How to grow
It is important to know that cumin grows best during a long hot summer. Therefore, unless you are cultivating seedlings inside, it is necessary to make sure that at least 1 to 2 weeks have elapsed since the last frost (not easy to judge with UK weather!).
On average takes around 3-4 months to be ready for harvesting.
- When planting cumin, it’s important to ensure the seeds are sown less than a quarter of an inch below the soil.
- Seeds will germinate in 7 – 14 days.
- When planting out (note above warnings about frost), they should be spaced 2-3 feet apart.
- Cumin prefers full sunlight.
- Cumin will grow to 6 and 24 inches (15-60cm) tall.
- The herb should be watered regularly, and eventually harvested after roughly 120 days.
For more information on growing cumin: How to grow cumin.
Cumin in the Bible
Unusually for the names of plants and animals, there is a surprising amount of agreement about the name cumin in Antiquity. In Hebrew it is כַּמֹּן (kammon), while in Akkadian – from which the Hebrew probably derives – it is 𒂵𒈬𒉡 (kamūnu). The Greek term is κύμινον (kuminon) and Latin cuminum. Similarly in Arabic it is كمون (kammun).
There is a lovely reference to cumin in the book of Isaiah, where it paints a vivid picture of agricultural activity in the ancient world:
25 When they have levelled its surface,Isaiah 28:25 and 26 (NRSV)
do they not scatter dill, sow cummin,
and plant wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and spelt as the border?
27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing-sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin;
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cummin with a rod.
This extract depicts standard farming techniques during the time of Jesus (and the Persian period), one of which being scattering seeds of cumin after a harvest to allow them to grow. Musselman (2007:107-109) suggests that cumin must have been well known to Isaiah’s ‘target audience’. This is supported by evidence of it being used for thousands of years in Egypt as well as multiple references within Ancient Near Eastern literature. It also seems to have featured in Jewish, Greek and Roman cuisine (see Goodfellow, 2015:57-58). This is also supported by Barnes (1868), in his commentary, where he writes that cumin was commonly used as a condiment in many sauces during this period. Jensen (2012) also adds:
The fruit has been utilized as a spice, for instance in production of liqueur, bread, meat dishes and cheese. It has also been used in medicine against cough and pain in the body.Jensen (2012: loc cit. 944)
In Matthew’s Gospel, cumin is referenced as being given to the less fortunate as an act of charity by the Pharisees. Matthew (23:23) records Jesus declaring to his opponents:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23
In this statement of expression, Jesus is helping the Pharisees to realise that acts of charity such as donating cumin is great, but they also need to consider the law and crime within the community which needs to be addressed. The fact that donating a tenth of their cumin is regarded as an act of charity by the Pharisees, heavily implies that it was a valuable resource during the time of the Bible. This is supported by Casey (2010) who writes that cumin was used as a seasoning for Priests who were given fish to eat, therefore showing it’s upper class value, and therefore the belief that cumin should be donated as part of the law.
For more information
There is a very helpful website that discusses the herbal and medicinal uses of cumin: Cumin uses as a medicinal herb.
Barnes, A. (1868) Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Kregal Publications.
Casey, M. (2010). Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. A&C Black
Goodfellow, P. (2015) Flora and Fauna of the Bible: A guide for Bible readers and naturalists. Oxford: John Beaufoy.
Jensen, H.A. (2012) Plant World of the Bible. [Kindle] Bloomington: Author House.
Musselman, L.J. (2007) Figs, Dates, Laurel and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and Quran. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.