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Friday, July 17, 2015


Commiphora myrrha
Photo from: János Bognar
bálsamo de Gilead, bálsamo de Judea, bálsamo de la Mecca, L. girapigragiro
(bitter),  Eng. balm of Gilead or balm of Mecca. This is not the buds of the poplar trees used to make cough syrups today (see negrillo below).

Gilead was an area east of the Jordan River, famous for its spices and ointments. A balm is an aromatic, medicinal substance derived from plants known for its healing properties. 

It is a type of myrrh-like an electuary, made from the resin of the flowering plant called opobalsamum or balm of Gilead (from the tree with the same name)Resin from Commiphora myrrha. (a species of trees producing gum resin or bellium), mixed with aloes mastic, cinnamon, lavender, spica indicus (sweet grass), wild ginger and other spices from Arabia. These were ground into powder and mixed with three parts clarified honey and made into in syrups or lozenges. Balm of gilead was also used for its aroma.

Raven in Winter
Photo by: Doug Brown
Bible uses the term “balm of Gilead” metaphorically as an example of something with healing or soothing powers.
 "Balm of Gilead" is referred to three times in the Bible. In Genesis 37:25, a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by on their way to Egypt from Gilead when Joseph's brothers plot as to how to kill him. The cargo consisted of “spicery, balm, and myrrh.”

Jeremiah 8:22 questions, "is there no balm in
Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of my daughter of my people recovered, This is considered to be a poetic search for hope to relieve pain —a plea for healing and it indicated that this is a resin used for medical purposes but that it was expensive and not available to all.

Edgar Alan Poe makes reference to this entry when in The Raven he begs,

 “On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!"

In other words, is there a possibility of peace and comfort in my future?

Dr. Solomon's Cordial Balm of Gilead
Photo from: Colin Gould

Further, in Jeremiah 46:11, an impending
judgment on Egypt is revealed when God demands, “go up to Gilead and take balm, O virgin, daughter of Egypt: In vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.

Balm of Gilead served to purge the stomach, to eliminate obstructions, other stomach illnesses and to purify the blood. It was thought beneficial for menstruation, urine and dropsy, etc. The balm valued as much as a medicine as a bitter electuary, which was imbibed. It is very bitter for the aloe content. Avenzoar lists the balm as an ingredient for antidotes against poison.

Today, commercial preparations of  Gilead balm (opobalsamum) and oil are sold on line.

[Castro. Alimentación. 1996:253; and Ibn Zuhr/García Sánchez. 1992:115-116:123]

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