The Roots of Luxury

The bottom diagram depicts a Syrian pistachio tree in an 18th century text scribed by Muhammad ibn Muhammad Shakir Ruzmah-‘i Nathani.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that the pistachio is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible? In case you were wondering, we are not metaphorically counting Nebuchadnezzar as one of these nuts, although he did grow them.

At JSTOR’s unexpectedly riveting Plant Science blog, managed by Michael Gallagher, arcane botanical facts, like the ones above, grow into rich histories of natural phenomena, including their interplay with literature, economics, and spirituality.  A post by Gallagher recounts how the pistachio was converted into one the world’s first recorded luxury goods:

The Queen of Sheba decreed pistachios an exclusively royal food, going so far as to forbid commoners from growing the nut for personal use. One wonders whether Sheba brought the pistachio with her to Jerusalem to impress Solomon along with the other gifts of spices, gold, and precious stones. Something must have worked as Solomon is reputedly supposed to have fathered her child (Menelik) and forever connected the two kingdoms in history (and perhaps the Ark of the Covenant).

In ancient Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had pistachio trees planted in the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon… The enzymes of pistachios have been found in the remains of embalmed Egyptian nobility (most likely as an ingredient in the embalming fluid itself) (Kaup et al, 2001).

So, the next time you lick a pistachio ice cream or shuck the the once-prized nut, think of King Tut and the Queen of Sheeba. For more gripping botanical narratives, explore JSTOR Plant Science.


  1. Michael Gallagher says

    Glad you liked it! I greatly enjoyed writing those posts as they lend themselves to those types of interdisciplinary exploration. In case anyone is really bored and has a heady desire to read other types of interdisciplinary posts (highly undisciplined ones!), then feel free to read some at Thanks for your encouragement!