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Nobody knows what Balm of Gilead is for sure. Nobody can say for certain what went into it. Nobody knows exactly what it did. In fact, we don’t know if the original plant is extinct or not.

There are various theories, and any one of them might be correct, all of them might be correct or none of them might be the actual Balm of Gilead. Because we don’t have any remnant of the balm that is mentioned in the bible, we can only surmise what it was made from. This site is designed as an examination of the biblical Balm of Gilead.

What the bible says about Balm of Gilead and balms in general:

Genesis 37:25

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Genesis 43:11

Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift–a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.

Jeremiah 8:22

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?

Jeremiah 46:11

“Go up to Gilead and get balm, O Virgin Daughter of Egypt. But you multiply remedies in vain; there is no healing for you.

Jeremiah 51:8

Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed.

Ezekiel 27:17

Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, oil and balm for your wares.

Chronicles 28:15

The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.

Of the various theories of what the source of Balm of Gilead is from, the  following three stand out as the most likely candidates:

  • Commiphora gileadensis
  • Cistus incanus L.
  • Pistacia lentiscus L.

Commiphora gileadensis / commiphora opobalsamum

Balm of Gilead was originally a healing compound (a balm) made from the resinous gum of a bush (Commiphora opobalsamum) which grew plentifully in the area of Gilead. Its dried fruit was called Carpobalsamum, and the dried twigs Xylobalsamum. This compound was exported widely. The Balm of Gilead is mentioned several times in the Bible. More recently, a similar product is made from the resinous gum of the North American Balm of Gilead tree (Populus × jackii) tree or from related species such as the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), which is also sometimes called Balm of Gilead.

Populus × jackii, also known as P. × gileadensis, is the hybrid between balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), occurring occasionally where the two parental species’ ranges overlap. This hybrid is also sometimes planted as a shade tree, and occasionally escapes from cultivation. P. balsamifera is also known as P. tacamahaca and P. trichocarpa, and is widespread in boreal North America. The name Populus candicans has been variously used for either P. balsamifera or P. × jackii; it is currently considered a synonym of P. balsamifera.
Populus × jackii, also known as P. × gileadensis, is the hybrid between balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and the eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), occurring occasionally where the two parental species’ ranges overlap. This hybrid is also sometimes planted as a shade tree, and occasionally escapes from cultivation. P. balsamifera is also known as P. tacamahaca and P. trichocarpa, and is widespread in boreal North America. The name Populus candicans has been variously used for either P. balsamifera or P. × jackii; it is currently considered a synonym of P. balsamifera.

Other Uses

Balm of Gilead is also an English common name of a perennial herbaceous plant native to the Canary Islands, Cedronella canariensis.

 


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