The Hebrew Word for balm is צרי tseri. The Strong’s concordance describes it this way: “From an unused root meaning to crack (as by pressure), hence to leak; distillation, that is, balsam: – balm.”
And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds: (Genesis 43:11)
Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed.
The term Balm of Gilead is often used to infer to healing in general, spiritual or physical as well as to indicate a teachers or physician or their teachings. It is also used to refer to healing that only God, only Yeshua can bring. Yeshua or the Holy spirit are often said to be the true Balm of Gilead that can restore the wounded soul. We see that Jeremiah is given a prophecy against Egypt, he attributes their seeking the balm of Gilead for healing to be in vain. Though this balm was known to be rich with healing potential and was beneficial to use, when in disobedience only God and repentance can bring true healing of the soul.
Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.
Yet we see a promise to the seed of Israel in this same chapter. God will save His people Israel and their seed. Yeshua the Seed of Israel becomes the true healing balm.
But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished.
What is the Biblical Balm of Gilead?
The word balm in the bible appears to refer to the fragrant resin or gum extracted from a tree. The most commonly identified tree is the Balsam tree. This is not the balsam fir which is in the pine family, though pines can also exudes resin and the balsam fir is used for turpentine. The Biblical tree is said to specifically be Commiphora opobalsamum also called Commiphora gileadensis. This tree is from Burseraceae family. The trees that we get myrrh and frankincense are also in this family. The resin actually exudes from the bark of these trees when they are cut.
This wood is also called torchwood because it burns very easily. The tree is often used to make turpentine. Today the tree is not often used in herbalism and is difficult to obtain.
Biblical Balm of Gilead Essential Oil Shows Promise in Cancer
A study done last year titled β-Caryophyllene, a Compound Isolated from the Biblical Balm of Gilead (Commiphora gileadensis), Is a Selective Apoptosis Inducer for Tumor Cell Lines has shown that Commiphora gileadini essential oil and extract, “acts in a selective manner against tumor cell lines and not against normal cells.” I am excited to see if we eventually are able to add this essential oil or resin to our herbal healing arsenal without causing damage to the trees in the wild.
Healing Balm or Salve
The Commiphora opobalsamum, (let’s just call it Balsam) was used to make incense, perfumes, and the resin was used as a healing balm for wounds. It is said to be anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, and antifungal.
Historically balms were made with resin or gums from trees. These resins are still used to make balms today. The term balm has however taken on a new meaning and is a type of healing ointment. The word balm is used interchangeably with salve but often times it is differentiated by the addition of essential oils to the salve thus making it a balm.
Gums and resins can be extracted from the wood or buds of trees and then infused in an oil such as olive oil. This can be done using heat or a more folk method using time. In herbalism balms are often made with any herb infused in oil which is made into a salve by adding beeswax and then aromatic essential oils.
Balm of Gilead Used in Herbalism
There are several other trees that are sometimes referred to as Balm Of Gilead. They are Populus candicans, P. nigra , P. Trichcarpa, and P. balsamifera. A variety of poplar, or cottonwood; these trees are in the family salicaceae or willow. It is the bud of these trees that exude aromatic resin. These buds a collected and infused in oil and used topically or mixed with beeswax and made into a balm. They are said to be ant-inflammatory and pain relieving. They do contain salicylates and so those allergic to aspirin should avoid the use of these trees. The buds are also used in tincture and tea form. As well as put into boiled water and used as a steam to relieve congestion. The inner bark of the tree has been dried and used as food or topically as a poultice.
Today I will share a simple recipe for cottonwood bud oil often called Balm of Gilead. Next time we will look deeper into the Burseraceae family.
Balm Of Gilead; Cottonwood Herbal Oil
Today’s recipe will be another herbal oil similar to the Juniper Oil recipe in this series last week. This recipe is using the simple folk steeping method.
- Approximately 1 cup of cottonwood buds from Populus candicans, P. nigra , P. Trichcarpa, or P. balsamifera.
- Extra virgin olive oil
Gather the unopened buds in winter or spring after the frost. It is best if possible to gather from fallen branches. After you have properly identified and gathered or purchased your buds, remove them from any stem, and rinse gently. You can pinch the tops of the buds or place them in a bag and gently use a rolling pen to press on them and open them slightly. Place the buds in a jar filled about half full. Pour olive oil to cover at least 2 inches above the buds. Seal with lid. Leave to steep for a minimum of 2 weeks and up to a year. Strain and use topically as is or make into a salve.
Methow Valley Herbs 2008 Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera)
Ryan Drum, Medicines From the Earth, 2008
Ellen O’Shea, Radical botany, Black Cottonwood and the Balm of Gilead (Populus balsamifer ssp. Trichocarpa),2012