Balm of Gilead
(Commiphora Opobalsamum Family: N.O. Burseraceae
—Synonyms—Balsamum Meccae var. Judiacum. Balsamum Gileadense. Baume de la Mecque. Balsamodendrum Opobalsamum. Balessan. Bechan. Balsam Tree Amyris Gileadensis. Amyris Opobalsamum. Balsumodendron Gileadensis. Protium Gileadense. DossÃ©mo.
—Part Used—The resinous juice.
—Habitat—The countries on both sides of the Red Sea.
—Description—This small tree, the source of the genuine Balm of Gilead around which so many mystical associations have gathered stands from 10 to 12 feet high, with wandlike, spreading branches. The bark is of a rich brown colour, the leaves, trifoliate, are small and scanty, the flowers unisexual small, and reddish in colour, while the seeds are solitary, yellow, and grooved down one side. It is both rare, and difficult to rear, and is so much valued by the Turks that its importation is prohibited. They have grown the trees in guarded gardens at Matarie, near Cairo, from the days of Prosper Alpin, who wrote the Dialogue of Balm, and the balsam is valued as a cosmetic by the royal ladies. In the Bible, and in the works of Bruce Theophrastes, Galen, and Dioscorides, it is lauded.
—History—Balm, Baulm or Bawm, contracted from Balsam, may be derived from the Hebrew bot smin, ‘chief of oils,’ or bÃ¢sÃ¢m, ‘balm,’ and besem, ‘a sweet smell.’ Opobalsamum is used by Dioscorides to mean ‘the juice flowing from the balsam-tree.’ Pliny states that the tree was first brought to Rome by the generals of Vespasian, while Josephus relates that it was taken from Arabia to Judea by the Queen of Sheba as a present to Solomon. There, being cultivated for its juice, particularly on Mount Gilead, it acquired its popular name. Later, it was called Opobalsamum, its dried twigs Xylobalsamum, and its dried fruit Carpobalsamum. Its rarity, combined with the magic of its name, have caused the latter to be adopted for several other species. Abd-Allatif, a Damascan physician of the twelfth century, noted that it had two barks the outer reddish and thin, the inner green and thick, and a very aromatic odour.
The juice exudes spontaneously during the heat of summer, in resinous drops, the process being helped by incisions in the bark. The more humid the air, the greater the quantity collected. When the oil is separated, it is prepared with great secrecy, and taken to the stores of the ruler, where it is carefully guarded. The quantity of oil obtained is roughly one-tenth the amount of juice. It is probable that an inferior kind of oil is obtained after boiling the leaves and wood with water.
The wood is found in small pieces, several kinds being known commercially, but it rapidly loses its odour.
The fruit is reddish grey, and the size of a small pea, with an agreeable and aromatic taste.
In Europe and America it is so seldom found in a pure state that its use is entirely discontinued .
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