balm of Gilead




pronounced: ball-sam-in-AY-see-eye

the balsam family

Balsam is a resinous oily substance obtained from some plants, used as the basis of a healing ointment. The best known is ‘Balm of Gilead’, obtained from an area east of the River Jordan. The bible uses the term metaphorically for any ointment with healing or soothing powers.

Plants of this family are mostly annual or perennial herbs, some shrub-like. The stem is often somewhat transparent, hollow, succulent with a watery juice. The leaves are simple, and may be entire or dentate. The flowers are bisexual and usually solitary or in small clusters. They are complex, with 3 sepals and 5 petals; the petals are fused to look like 3, but each lateral lobe is 2 fused petals; 2 coloured sepals cup the flower and the third coloured sepal forms the large pouch and spur (the flower is actually upside-down). The fruit is a capsule or a pod with the seeds expelled explosively, or a berry-like drupe.



Photograph from Wikimedia commons