Bitter Herbs Banter

bowl of bitter herbs

This weekend brings Passover celebrations to the Jewish community, no better time to add bitter herbs to the Garden in Delight Plant Guide! “Bitter herbs” is a general, non-botanical term in the Bible, leaving several candidates that were likely growing in ancient Egypt at the time God appointed them to the Passover meal—plenty to banter about in determining specifics.

Cichorium intybus Perseo - ChicoryChicory and endive, plants related to lettuces in the Sunflower Family, Compositae, are strong candidates. They each have unique, bitter tastes and bring an intriguing range of flavor and color to modern tables. Many varieties are available, and these leafy greens start well from seed. escarole growing in the gardenSow them as the spring warms up for fall harvest; those of us in mild climates are enjoying over-wintered heads now before they bolt.

Relatively simple to cultivate in the garden, the Cichoriums make great plants to try from God’s Word to bring the story close to hand.

What story?

Arguably the greatest story of all time, one that resounds in all souls: the moving saga of slavery to freedom. This simple fractal plays out in our lives inevitably, whether we are imprisoned literally or become enslaved figuratively to any sort of oppressive forces: addiction, tragic loss, injustice.

Rather than paraphrase this epic tale, embrace its pattern in the latest letter for the A-to-Z Primer of Plants from God’s Word, our own form of festive banter to celebrate the hopeful outcome we have in the Lord our God!


B for bitter herbsis for bitter herbs,
the small story beginner
in the deliverance drama
of Passover dinner.

Bitter, harsh oppression
the ancient Israelites suffered;
ruthless brick-making
with nothing to buffer

the slave-driving Egyptians—
no hope in sight!
But cries to the LORD
transformed the people’s plight.

God foretold their misery,
and to Abram, He repeated:
“For 400 years your seed will
be enslaved and mistreated.”

And so concerned, He summoned Moses,
and their deliverance rumbled;
it required 10 plagues,
but Egypt’s Pharaoh was humbled.

Then exodus came swiftly,
a quick dinner that eve
of unleavened bread, lamb,
and unflourished greens.

What were the bitter herbs,
their species specifically?
They were likely leafy plants
that grew prolifically;

for the Israelites had to
gather them in haste,
their liberation impending—
never mind the taste!

Wild lettuces, endive, and chicory
were plentiful in Egypt back then,
low-growing, broad-leaved, dentate edges;
to this group, some add dandelion.

Full heads are mature for eating
in a mild-climate’s early spring.
The Lord’s people moved out to freedom
crossed the Red Sea, ready to sing!

Yet in the joy of freedom lies remembrance:
Never forget from where things came.
The bitter sufferings serve to remind us
of glory in His Holy Name.

He hears our cries; He knows our pain.
He has power behind His promise.
He delivers the needy who cry out—
Israel’s story is here to calm us.

Commemorate this day, the LORD commanded;
tell the story from garden to table,
that your children will know in bitter anguish.
Seek His deliverance: God is able.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
Psalm 81:10 NIV


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Find information for growing bitter herbs in the Plant Guide:

Chicory –

Endive –


Photo Credits:
©2016 Shelley S. Cramm

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