Biological membranes are complex structures whose mechanics are usually described at a mesoscopic level, such as the Helfrich bending theory. In this article, we present the phase-field methods, a useful tool for studying complex membrane problems which can be applied to very different phenomena. We start with an overview of the general theory of elasticity, paying special attention to its derivation from a molecular scale. We then study the particular case of membrane elasticity, explicitly obtaining the Helfrich bending energy. Within the framework of this theory, we derive a phase-field model for biological membranes and explore its physical basis and interpretation in terms of membrane elasticity. We finally explain three examples of applications of these methods to membrane related problems. First, the case of vesicle pearling and tubulation, when lipidic vesicles are exposed to the presence of hydrophobic polymers that anchor to the membrane, inducing a shape instability. Finally, we study the behavior of red blood cells while flowing in narrow microchannels, focusing on the importance of membrane elasticity to the cell flow capabilities.