Skip to main content
Select Source:

Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead


Balm of Gilead (Cammiphora opobalsamum, known as Populus candicans in the United States) is a substance used in perfumes that is derived from the resinous juices of the balsam poplar tree. The tree is a member of the Bursera family. The variety that is native to the continents of Africa and Asia is a small tree of 1012 ft (3-3.6 m) in height. The cultivated North American variety can grow to heights of 100 ft (30 m).

The herb's name derives from the ancient region of Gilead in Palestine, known for the great healing powers of its balm. Balm of Gilead is mentioned several times in the Bible (e.g., Jeremiah 8:22). The writings of Pliny the Elder indicate that the tree was brought to Rome in the first century a.d. The historian Josephus recorded that the Queen of Sheba made a gift of balm of Gilead to King Solomon.

General use

In addition to being used in the composition of perfumes, balm of Gilead is used to soothe ailments of the mucous membranes. It is taken internally to ease coughs and respiratory infections . The balm is also said to relieve laryngitis and sore throats. It can also be combined with coltsfoot to make a cough suppressant.


The resin of the balsam poplar tree is collected when it seeps out of the tree during the summer months. Seepage increases when humidity levels are high. Slits may be made in the tree's bark to collect the resin more rapidly. The bark and leaf buds are also collected.

For the internal treatment of chest congestion, balm of Gilead is made into a tincture or a syrup. To make a syrup, the balm is combined with equal parts of elecampane, wild cherry bark and one-half part of licorice mixed with honey. The syrup can be taken by tablespoons as needed.

For external treatment of bruises , swellings and minor skin irritations, the balm is combined with lard or oil and applied as needed. The bark, which contains traces of salicylic acid, can be combined with willow and rosemary and used as a analgesic to relieve fevers, muscle aches and arthritic pain .


The sale and use of herbs as medicines, including balm of Gilead, are not regulated by government agencies. Therefore, consumers should exercise caution in purchasing and using herbs in this manner. Consultation with a physician or pharmacist is always recommended.

Side effects

In general, balm of Gilead is safe to use in small amounts for coughs and other minor health problems. Some people, however, may have allergic reactions to the resin. In addition, patients with kidney and liver disease, as well as pregnant and nursing women, should avoid the internal use of balm of Gilead.


Balm of Gilead has no known interactions with standard pharmaceutical preparations.



Elias, Jason, and Shelagh Ryan Masline. Healing Herbal Remedies. New York: Dell, 1995.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.


Grieve, M. "Balsam of Gilead." (December 2000). <>

Mary McNulty

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Balm of Gilead." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Balm of Gilead." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . (December 13, 2017).

"Balm of Gilead." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from

balm of Gilead

balm of Gilead (gĬl´ēəd), name for several plants belonging to different taxonomic families. The historic Old World balm of Gilead, or Mecca balsam, is a small evergreen tree (Commiphora gileadensis, also once called C. opobalsamum) of the family Burseraceae (incense-tree family) native to Africa and Asia and the source of the commercial balm of Gilead; it is referred to in the Bible in Jer. 8.22. The Ishmaelites from Gilead were bearing balm when they bought Joseph from his brothers. Balm of Gilead is still in high repute for healing in some countries.

The American balm of Gilead is a hybrid species of poplar (Populus × jackii) of the family Salicaceae (willow family) which has large balsamic and fragrant buds. The tree occurs in the wild where the ranges of its parents, the balsam poplar (P. balsamifera) and eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides), overlap, and was formerly a favorite dooryard tree of the northern states. The buds were used in domestic medicine. The balsam poplar has also been called balm of Gilead and tacamahac.

The name balm of Gilead has also been used for the balsam fir and for a herbaceous aromatic, shrubby plant (Dracocephalum canariense or Cedronella canariensis) of the family Labiatae (mint family) native to the Canary Islands and cultivated in parts of the United States.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"balm of Gilead." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

"balm of Gilead." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 13, 2017).

"balm of Gilead." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from