Vegetables were a secondary but important part of Bible diets. The "bitter herbs"
of the Passover meal were probably lettuce, chicory, cress, sorrel, or dandelion
leaves. 3 Wild versions of these plants would all have had a bitter taste. God gives "every
green herb for food" in Genesis 1: 30, and vegetable gardens are mentioned in Deuteronomy
The high value placed on having a vegetable garden in Biblical Palestine is illustrated
in the story of King Ahab (1 Kings 21. Ahab dearly wanted a vegetable garden, and
particularly coveted his neighbour, Naboth's vineyard, which happened to adjoin the
Ahab approached Naboth, offering him another, better vineyard, or alternatively cold
cash, for his land. However, Levitical law explicitly stated that ancestral property
must not be sold (Leviticus 25: 23), so Naboth refused the king's offer.
Ahab must have had a powerful hankering for veggies, because the Bible says he got
very depressed over Naboth's rebuff, went to bed, and wouldn't eat. His wife, Jezebel,
who was a native of Phoenicia, had difficulty grasping the concept that a sovereign
monarch could be subject to any inconvenient law. She conspired to frame Naboth on
false charges of blasphemy and treason, and had him stoned to death. This accomplished,
she told Ahab to take possession of the vineyard and get on with planting his vegetable garden.
Jezebel's perfidy did not escape the Lord's notice, and the prophet Elijah was dispatched
to read the riot act to Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah prophesied that dogs would lick
up Ahab's blood as they had that of Naboth, and that the mutts would actually eat
Jezebel. Both prophesies were soon fulfilled. You can read about it in 1 Kings 22: 37
and 2 Kings 35: 37. The Bible doesn't tell us whether Ahab ever did get to plant
vegetables in Naboth's vineyard, but we can safely assume that any "herbs" he may
have grown there would have been truly "bitter."
Cucumbers are mentioned several times in the Bible. Two varieties are thought to
have been grown in ancient Palestine: cucumis sativas, which was whitish and smooth-skinned;
and the Arabic faqqus--a long slender cucumber. Melons, including muskmelons, and watermelon were also found in Levantine vegetable gardens, as were the ever-popular
onions, garlic, and leeks (Numbers 11: 5)
Cabbage was not eaten in Old Testament times, but had been introduced by Greeks before
the time of the Roman Occupation. Purslane grew wild in Israel, and was also eaten
as a vegetable. Radishes, beets, and turnips are not mentioned in the Bible either,
but were common table vegetables in ancient Egypt and probably Palestine as well, Radish
leaves were thought to be poisonous, but beet and turnip green were eaten cooked.