Herbalism seems to be rooted in pagan practices and cultures. Can someone be a Christian herbalist or simply use herbal remedies without sinning?
I came home from the library with bundles of books on herbalism packed into my bag and slung over my very tired shoulder. The world of natural remedies was waiting for me and I was ready to dig in.
I cracked open the books and started reading, my eyes taking in all the information as quickly as possible. Then I came to a page that stopped me.
…Before harvesting, find the grandmother of the plant colony and ask her permission to harvest and maybe shake a rattle and then dance in the moonlight to show your gratitude… Wait, what?
I put the book away.
If you research herbal medicine for any length of time, you’ll likely come across ideas that clash with Christianity. Nature worship, witchcraft, occult practices, and more are sometimes so intertwined with herbalism and natural health that it’s difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.
Many good, honest Christians are left wondering if Christianity and herbalism can really mix. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
As a Christian herbalist, I’ve had to wrestle with this question myself, too. Let’s dig deep and see if herbalism is against the Bible. Can you use herbs without sinning if you’re a Christian?
Where Does Herbalism Come From?
If you’re just getting started with natural remedies as a Christian, you might wonder where herbalism comes from and if it’s okay for Christians to use.
God warns us in Jeremiah 10:2 to “Learn not the way of the heathen.”
Shaman, pagan, and other spiritual traditions have used herbs in one way or another, whether for healing ceremonies or religious purposes or both.
- Ancient India produced the Ayurvedic herbal tradition.
- Ancient China gave us Traditional Chinese Medicine.
- Indigenous people groups in Africa, North and South America, and Australia have their own unique healing traditions, too.
None of them are rooted in the Old or New Testaments.
Does this mean herbalism comes from heathen practices?
Herbalism and Religion Today
Even today, the vast majority of professional herbalists and herbal teachers are not professing Christians.
Their faiths, or lack thereof, might range from more familiar religions like Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism to lesser-known systems like
- Nature Worship
and anything or nothing in between.
Sometimes this slips through their practices or teachings lightly, like the one page dedicated to a harvest ritual in the otherwise valuable 200+ page book I mentioned above.
Other times it might be quite overt, like repeatedly singing “I’m the goddess” on stage at a well-known herbal conference.
Christian herbalists are a rarity.
Can Herbalism Be Redeemed?
If past pagan cultures used herbs for healing and ritual, and if the herbalism of today is so steeped in anti-Christ teachings, is herbalism actually sinful?
Should Christians use herbal remedies?
The verdict on Christians using herbs hasn’t looked so good, but friend, here’s where the story gets sweet.
Yes, yes, and a million times yes! Christians can enthusiastically and unashamedly use herbs without fear of sinning.
God created these beautiful plants with tremendous capacities for restoring health, strength, and wellness. No doubt the earliest people, yes, even Adam, Eve, and all their descendants knew how to use these plants to benefit their bodies.
Perhaps God Himself, out of His abundant compassion and love for His fallen creation, gave Adam that knowledge. Adam could have then passed it on to those who came after him for hundreds of years.
However it may have happened, it is perfectly logical to assume the God who made these healing plants made sure His creation knew how to use them.
As these early people continued to pass down herbal knowledge, some fell into paganism and idolatry. Their healing traditions would have evolved with their new religion while the minority who stayed true to the Lord God would have also continued to use herbs.
So while pagan cultures have used herbs for thousands of years, there is no sin in you, as a Christian believer, using God’s own creation to promote health and wellness.
Who Gets the Glory for Herbs?
No one gets the glory for herbalism but God Himself.
I love how my friend Jasmine from The Christian Herbal put it:
Herbalism is not rooted in paganism. Herbalism is perverted in paganism.
As a Christian herbalist, my faith is the foundation of my love for herbal medicine.
God blessed this planet with incredible plants that work in remarkable ways within the human body. He knew sin would cause sickness, and in His love, He provided helpful remedies even before the human race fell.
When I use an herb to help the body heal, God gets the glory. Not the plant, not Mother Earth, not a nature spirit.
These remedies work because God designed them to.
I don’t need to thank nature, talk with the plants, or shake a rattle to benefit from herbs.
God, in His goodness, gave us these plants. I, as a Christian herbalist, am incredibly thankful to have these botanicals at my service.
What Does the Bible Say About Using Herbs?
While I wholeheartedly believe the Bible isn’t against herbalism and Christians can use and study herbs without fear of sinning, I don’t believe the Bible expressly commands believers to use herbs.
So if I’ve upset any of my non-Christian herbalist friends, here’s where I disappoint some Christians.
Yes, there are some Scriptural references about plants used for healing. Other verses mention medicinal herbs in general, as well.
Scholars disagree on the exact number of herbs mentioned in the Bible, with some suggesting over 200 and others just 45, including only a small handful referenced as explicitly medicinal. Those clearly medicinal herbs were used as salves or balms, poultices, and other unknown applications.
No matter how many herbs the Bible actually mentions, the most well-known verse herbal enthusiasts cite is the last phrase of Revelation 22:2:
… and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
While this initially sounds like a great support for the case that herbalism isn’t sinful, I don’t use that verse to defend Christian herbalism. Here’s why.
- The verse is clearly prophetic, speaking of the new Jerusalem. It doesn’t refer to this current earth, so using it that way is taking the verse out of context.
- We don’t know if the tree and its leaves are literal or figurative. If they’re figurative, then this phrase most certainly doesn’t apply to earthly plants.
- We don’t actually need this verse to defend herbalism for Christians. We can make the case without it and let this verse be a beautiful prophetic promise for our future home.
I realize many naturally-minded Christians will disagree with me here, and that’s fine. It’s not a major issue or one worth debating.
Actually, I find the most important support for herbal remedies in the person of Luke, Paul’s beloved physician friend and the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.
As a physician, Luke wasn’t running to a Roman pharmacy to fill a prescription for something developed by the big pharma companies of the first century. He was likely using herbs, foods, minerals, and perhaps some surgery techniques.
Side note: Paul referenced Luke the physician on more than one occasion. So, Christian, don’t feel embarrassed or weak in faith if you need to go to the doctor. One was often with the apostle Paul.
How Can Christians Use Herbs for God’s Glory?
Scripture is clear: God calls Christians completely avoid witchcraft, idolatry, and spiritualism (Galatians 5:19-21).
And thankfully, you can do that and still confidently use herbal remedies. Just keep some things in mind.
- Follow your conscience as you choose herbal practices and give your fellow Christians that freedom, too. Some Christians can burn an herb for medicinal reasons with a pure conscience. Others might feel it’s too close to a spiritual practice and decide to avoid it. Both can be valid choices.
- Pray for guidance as you choose herbal teachers. Like choosing how you use herbs, choosing how you study herbs as a Christian isn’t a black and white issue. I choose to learn from believers and nonbelievers alike but avoid a few herbalists whose unbiblical practices and spirituality are a key feature of their teaching. Joining my free email list is a great place to start.
- Consider how your herbal practices might impact your Christian brothers and sisters, especially those who are young or weak in faith (Romans 14:19-21). For example, if you burn sage for medicinal reasons but know it might cause a brother or sister to doubt, then consider doing this practice privately.
- Use herbs with faith in the God Who created them (Romans 14:23). Pray for wisdom as you choose remedies, use them in Jesus’s name, and give God the glory when health and wellness are restored. If you don’t want to figure that out on your own, I can help.
God is the ultimate healer, and He can heal in many ways. Herbs can be one avenue for that healing.
You don’t have to avoid herbal remedies because you’re a Christian.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to shake a rattle when you use them, either.