Balm of Gilead

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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