The ‘Albularyo’ and the Bible’s Herbalism
Those of us who were born and raised in the countryside have probably experienced being treated by an ‘albularyo’ from a simple fever to a more serious ailment. The practice of ‘albularyo’ still persist today despite the advance in science and medicine. The term ‘albularyo’ is derived from the Spanish herbolario or herbalist. An herbalist is a person or a therapist who heals by the use of herbs. Most of them implore the supernatural beings like the spirits or the anito, to aid their healing sessions.
Long before the Spanish colonization, natives of the archipelago trust in the supernatural power of the babaylans and catalonans. They were the spiritual leaders of the balangays (barangays). This position was usually held by a female but a male could also serve as one, but he has to act and dress as a female. The babaylan led the balangays in all rituals, and communicate with spirits in nature, aiding them in healing the sick and protecting the villagers against curses.
This explains the persistence of the belief in the albularyos: it is deeply rooted in folklore and folk medicine and the efficacy of the herbs used in healing.
Herbalism in the Bible
Herbalism is the knowledge of herbs and plants and using them as medicine. There are several instances in the Old Testament where herbs are mentioned, like Gen. 37:25; Exo. 30:23-24; Psa. 45:8; Prov. 7:17. In the New Testament, there was a medical doctor who lived not may years after Christ. He was well-known in Christian circles, he is no other than Luke, the physician. (Read: Luke, the Evangelist, Physician, Historian and Close Companion)
We have no record of his medical practices but we can presume that he practiced herbalism. Let us consider one passage from his gospel, a scene in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34, “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (NKJV) The ‘oil‘ here is olive oil used for healing the sick. Olive Oil is also mentioned in James 5:14 which further stressed its remedial and medicinal value. While ‘wine‘ was used to cleanse the wounds as in alcohol or antiseptic. At that time. oil and wine are household remedies for wounds.
So where do we draw the line?
Some have distanced themselves from the use of herbs as medicine probably because herbs has been merged with witchcraft and many occult practices. The Old Testament has a clear prohibition on such practices, “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, NKJV)
James 5:14-15 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”(NKJV)
Here James draws the line between an acceptable and unacceptable practices. The use of oil (or herb for that matter) should be within the context of the ‘church’ and administered by the leaders or officers of the church entrusted with its spiritual interests, the elders. We know for a fact that herbs do not possess power to heal, they only serve as supplement to help the body to function well. The use of herbs accompanied by prayers can heal the sick.
MySword for Android. Riversoft Ministry, 1993.
Olive Tree Bible Software, 1998-2020.
The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Vols. V, VII, XII, and XVI (www.gutenberg.org)