"A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey." (Deuteronomy 8:8)
The Seven Species of the Land of Israel still characterize large areas of the local landscape and play a special role in Jewish tradition. In ancient times these foods were staples of the diet and only first fruits of the Seven Species could be brought to the Temple as offerings.
The wheat grown throughout the world comes from wild wheat that originated in the Land of Israel or nearby countries. In Israel today wheat is mainly grown in the northern Negev and harvested around the time of the festival of Shavuot. In biblical times, as today, bread was the staple of the local diet, though wheat flour was used by the rich.
In Biblical times, barley, also used for fodder, was half the price of wheat (2 Kings 7:1) and the poor man's staple, used in porridge and barley cakes. However, it was less popular than wheat as it did not rise well, was coarse and harder to chew and digest. Biblical Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1:22).
Vines are the first cultivated plant mentioned in the Bible, in the story of Noah (Genesis 9:20). Numbers 13:23 describes how the spies sent by Moses returned with a cluster of grapes so large that it had to be carried by two men. "Wine maketh glad the heart of men" says Psalm 104:15 and it plays an important part in Jewish rituals on the Sabbath and festivals.
The fig is first mentioned in the Torah in early chapters of Genesis when Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves. In ancient Israel, fig trees were planted in gardens throughout the country and the fig was considered inexpensive nourishment. Cheese could be curdled by adding fig sap. Figs also had medicinal uses as a poultice (Isaiah 38:21).
Pomegranates were another of the seven species brought back by the spies to show how fertile the land of Israel was. The legend says that there are exactly 613 seeds in a pomegranate (corresponding with the 613 commandments found in the Torah). Pomegranates are frequently pictured in Jewish art works. Not only is this fruit delicious to eat but its juice makes an excellent, natural red dye.
The olive is one of the oldest and most valued trees in the Middle East, for its fruit, oil and wood. Olive oil was used for lighting the great menorah lit in the Temple and played an important role in the diet of ancient Israelites and as a cosmetic. The olive branch is long known and still used symbol of peace following the story of the great flood when the pigeon brought Noah back an olive leaf to show that the water were abated from off the earth (Genesis 8:11). There are claims that olive trees can live to over 1,000 years old and still produce fruit. In the State of Israel, it is against the law to cut down living trees.
Dates do not appear in the list of the Seven Species, however since it is the only item that is not a fruit and date honey is often mentioned in ancient sources, the honey of the Seven Species is surely the sweet, thick juice of the date. It was produced by boiling the dates in water, straining them and reducing the resulting liquid. Already in biblical times, Jericho was known as the City of Palms, as it is to this day.