Leek (חָצַיר, chatsir', from חָצִר, to enclose, also to grow green; occurs in several places in the Old Testament, where it is variously translated, as grass in 1Ki 18:5; 2Ki 19:26; Job 40; Job 15; Ps 37:2, etc.; Isa 15:6, etc.; herb in Job 8:12; hay in Pr 27:25, and Isa 15:6; and court in Isa 34:13; but in Nu 11:5 it is translated "leeks:" Sept. τὰπράσα, Vulg. pori). Hebrew scholars state that the word signifies "greens" or grass" in general; and it is Ino doubt clear, from the context of most of the above passages, that this must be its meaning. SEE GRASS. There is, therefore, no reason why it should not be so translated in all the passages where it occurs, except in the last. It is evidently incorrect to translate it hay, as in the above passages of Proverbs and Isaiah, because the people of Eastern countries, as it has been observed, do not make hay. The author of Fragments, in continuation of Calmet, has justly remarked on the incorrectness of our version, "The hay appeareth, and the tender grass showeth itself, and the herbs of the mountains are gathered" (Pr 27:25): "Now certainly," says he, "if the tender grass is but just beginning to show itself, the hay, which is grass cut and dried after it has arrived at maturity, ought by no means to be associated with it; still less ought it to be placed before it." The author continues: "The word, I apprehend, means the first shoots, the rising, just budding spires of grass." So in Isa 15:6. SEE HAY.
In the passage at Nu 11:5, where the Israelites in the desert long for "the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic" of Egypt, it is evident that it was not grass which they desired for food, but some green, perhaps grass-like vegetable, for which the word chatsir is used. In the same way that in this country the word greens is applied to many varieties of succulent plants as food, in India subzi, from subz, "green," is used as a general term for herbs cooked as kitchen vegetables. It is more than probable, therefore, that chatsir is here similarly employed, though this does not prove that leeks are intended. Ludolphus, as quoted by Celsius (Hierobot. 2:264), supposes that it may mean lettuce, or salads in general, and others that the succory or endive may be the true plant. But Rosenmüller states, "The most ancient Greek and the Chaldee translators unanimously interpret the Hebrew by the Greek πράσα, or leeks." The name, moreover,:seems to have been specially applied to leeks from the resemblance of their leaves to grass, and from their being conspicuous for their green color. This is evident from minerals even having been named from πράσον on account of their color, as prasius, prasites, and chrvsoprasium. The Arabs use the word kûras, or kûrath, as the translation of the πράσον of the Greeks, and with them it signifies the leek, both at the present day sand in their older works. It is curious that of the different kinds described, one is called kurasal-bukl, or leek used as a vegetable. That the leek is esteemed in Egypt we have the testimony of Hasselquist, who says (Travels, p. 291), "The kind called karrat by the Arabs must certainly have been one of those desired by the children of Israel, as it has been cultivated and esteemed from the earliest times to the present time in Egypt." The Romans employed it much as a seasoning to their dishes (Horace, Ep. 1:12, 21; Martial, 3:47, 8), and it is an ingredient in a number of recipes in Apicius referred to by Ceisius (Hierobot. 2:263; comp. Pliny, Hist. Nat. 19:6; Hiller, Hierophyt. pt. 2, p. 36; Diosc. 2:4; Athen. 4:137,170). The leek (Allium porrum) was introduced into England about the year 1562, and thence, in due time, into America; and, as is well known, it continues to be esteemed as a seasoning to soups and stews in most civilized countries.
There is, however, another and a very ingenious interpretation of chatsir, first proposed by Hengstenberg, and received by Dr. Kitto (Pictorial Bible, Nu 11:5), which adopts a more literal translation of the original word, for, says Kitto, "among the wonders in the natural history of Egypt, it is mentioned by travelers that the common people there eat with special relish a kind of grass similar to clover." Mayer (Reise nach AEgyptien, p. 226) says of this plant (whose scientific name is Trigonella Faenum- graecum, belonging to the natural order Legumniose) that it is similar to clover, but its leaves more pointed, and that great quantities of it are eaten by the people. Forskal mentions the Trigonella, as being grown in the gardens at Cairo; its native name is Halbeh (Flor. AEgyptiaca, p. 81). Sonnini (Voyage, 1:379) says, "In this fertile country the Egyptians themselves eat the fenu-grec so largely that it may be properly called the food of man. In the month of November they cry 'Green halbeh for sale!' in the streets of the town; it is tied up in large bunches, which the inhabitants purchase at a low price, and which they eat with incredible greediness without any kind of seasoning." The seeds of this plant, which is also cultivated in Greece, are often used; they are eaten boiled or raw, mixed with honey. Forskal includes it in the materia medica of Egypt (Matthew Med. Kahir. p. 155). There does not appear, however, sufficient reason for ignoring the old versions, which all seem agreed that the leek is the plant denoted by chatsir, a vegetable from the earliest times a great favorite with the Egyptians, as both a nourishing and savory food. Some have objected that, as the Egyptians held the leek, onion, etc., sacred, they would abstain from eating these vegetables themselves, and would not allow the Israelites to use them (compare Juvenal, Sat. 15:9). We have, however, the testimony of Herodotus (2:125) to show that onions were eaten by the Egyptian poor, for he says that on one of the pyramids is shown an inscription, which was explained to him by an interpreter, showing how much money was spent in providing radishes, onions, and garlic for the workmen. The priests were not allowed to eat these things, and Plutarch (De Isaiah et Osir. 2, p. 353) tells us the reasons. The Welshman reverences his leek, and wears one on St. David's day; he eats the leek nevertheless, and doubtless the Egyptians were not overscrupulous (Script. Herbal. p. 230).