Bible Stories Inspire The Great Herb Garden – Lemon Balm Punch

Reverend Keith Amborn grows over 60 herbs as well as tomatoes in his garden at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

MCT photo

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – In the beginning God created gardens. And they would come to produce more than tempting fruit for Adam and Eve.
There was basil, seen after the resurrection, growing around Jesus’ tomb. There was horehound “Marrubium”, a bitter-tasting musky herb used by Jews during Passover.
In total, the Bible mentions over 66 herbs.
Most of them now grow in Reverend Keith Amborn’s backyard shrine at the rectory of the church where he preaches on Sundays, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Some plants in Amborn’s Bible herb garden might be considered weeds, but not by Amborn. His thistle patch is a reminder of God cursing the ground because of Adam’s sin, he said, referring to the thistle references in Genesis 3:18. Seventeen Hebrew words apply to plants with prickles and thorns, he added.
The fruit of temptation, moreover, was not an apple, says Amborn, for there were no apples in the Holy Land. “It was either an apricot, an orange or a pomegranate.”
And the tree that “tiny” tax collector Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus walk through Jericho was not the sycamore tree that grows in Wisconsin, Amborn said. It was what we call a mulberry tree, which grows 30 to 40 feet tall and has a short main trunk that splits into many branches close to the ground so that it can be climbed easily. The Amborn garden naturally also includes a mulberry tree.
“It’s the stories behind the things in my garden that make them important to me,” said Amborn, a gentle man with a passion for gardening which he traced back to his father.
“These plants are linked to biblical times. People in Bible times learned to use them for food and healing. They are the living link between us and the peoples of distant times. … Onion and leek, dill, mint and the rue of our lives were also part of the daily lives of the people of the Bible.
Amborn read many herb books and visited other biblical herb gardens. His garden has grown to serve many purposes.
“I’m memorizing sermons here,” Amborn said, as he described each herb in the backyard shrine. “I can’t sit down and memorize. I have to walk around, preach it and learn it.
When Amborn and his wife, Bonnie, lived near La Crosse years ago, their rectory was in the country and their neighbors included a herd of cows grazing in a pasture. “I preached to the cows,” Amborn recalls with a chuckle. “They were approaching the fence and listening. And when they left, I knew the sermon was long enough, and it was time to say, ‘Amen.’ “
Although there are no cows here to cause an “Amen,” there is a sense of peace in Amborn Garden that encourages reflection.
“It’s calm,” he said. “On August night, you get the fireflies. And you don’t hear the traffic. … In the morning, after the sun has shone on the grass for a while, you no longer smell the bus exhaust. You smell of rosemary and basil. The scent changes with the direction of the wind.
Three of the most important events in the Bible took place in a garden, Amborn points out. According to the creation story, sin entered the world when the serpent (Satan) tempted Eve to eat the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the New Testament, Jesus was strengthened in his commitment to go to the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. After his crucifixion, Jesus was placed in a tomb in a garden.
Amborn Garden is actually a collection of mini-gardens spread across the spacious backyard. Each has a theme, from the ‘back door herb garden‘ near the rectory back door to the ‘patio garden’, the ‘hummingbird garden’ and the ‘acacia fence’ area – a fence. with diamond mesh intertwined with branches, like a basket weave. Historically, an acacia fence enclosed animals, orchards and gardens.
Basil is part of Amborn’s “Back Door Herb Garden”. A “basil scale” features several types of basil, including bush basil, black opal, lemon basil, purple ruffles, and sweet basil. It is believed that the word basil comes from the Greek word for “king” and refers to the tomb of Jesus.
Amborn’s “bitter herb garden” includes sorrel, Swiss chard, kale and horehound. This plot depicts the Hebrews being ordered to eat the Passover lamb with bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitter slavery in Egypt and the haste with which they left.
A separate fenced herb garden features four herb beds separated by slab steps in the shape of a Greek cross, with four arms of equal length. One of the beds includes the ancient herb hyssop, mentioned in the Old Testament for purification, as well as lemongrass, which is related to calamus or reed in the Bible. God included the calamus in his instructions to Moses for the making and use of the holy oil.
Last month, the garden was part of the Garden Walk of Enderis Park and the Enderis East Neighborhood Association. Church members served refreshments incorporating herbs from the Biblical garden including lemon balm punch, rosemary and pineapple cooler, mint cooler, herb cheese and crackers, pop -corn with herbs and several herbal cookies.
“I also lectured to church ladies on herbs,” Amborn said.
“You see the beauty of the Creator here,” he said. “I believe he created everything in my garden and gave it to us for a specific purpose, whether for food or medicine.
“It’s up to us to find out how to use it.


Makes about 1 gallon

2 liters of boiling water

2 large handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves, washed

A few sprigs of lemon verbena or lemongrass (optional)

2 liters of ginger ale or grapefruit and orange juice

Ice to serve

In a large saucepan bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add lemon balm and, if desired, lemon verbena or lemongrass. Or, pour boiling water into the teapot and add the herbs. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes or steep for 20 minutes. Cool then filter. Toss with ginger ale or grapefruit-orange juice and serve with ice cubes.


Makes 5 dozen

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon of cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 tablespoons of dried lemon thyme or 6 tablespoons of fresh lemon thyme

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cream of tartar and salt. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar; Add the eggs and mix well. Work in the flour mixture until well combined; stir in the lemon thyme. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough into balls the size of a walnut. Bake in preheated oven on a greased cookie sheet for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Terri S. Tomasini