Balm of Gilead
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Balm of Gilead was originally a healing compound (a balm) made from the resinous gum of a bush 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.
In Biblical times, the balm of Gilead was produced exclusively from a few oases in the Dead Sea basin, Ein Gedi and Jericho, but during the Middle Ages, production of the balsam shifted to Egypt. In recent centuries its importance in commerce declined. In Ein Gedi, production of balsam commenced from the time of its settlement around 800 BCE, and the methods of its production were a closely guarded secret. The perfume was said to have been used by Cleopatra and also to have miraculous healing properties.
From the sixteenth century, authorities including Linnaeus have agreed that this ancient trade item was in all likelihood what is now known as Balsam of Mecca, produced from the tree Commiphora gileadensis (syn. C. opobalsamum), now native to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and Eritrea. This plant is a relative of the source of myrrh.
Due to its familiarity from the Biblical reference, the phrase "balm of Gilead" has been applied as the English common name for a variety of unrelated plants, including Balm-of-Gilead, a hybrid poplar tree, and a perennial herbaceous plant native to the Canary Islands, Cedronella canariensis.
Translations excerpted from the JPS Tanakh:
"And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt." Genesis 37:25
"Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt; in vain dost thou use many medicines; there is no cure for thee." Jeremiah 46:11
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? Jeremiah 8:22
The obvious understanding for both; "my people" and "the daughter of my people" in Jeremiah 8:22 refers to the Jewish people living in the land of Israel. Rabbinic commentators like Rashi interpreted the balm as a metaphor for teachers, as if to say "Did they not have any righteous men from whom to learn so that they should improve their ways?"
Some Christians interpret this same passage as a prophetic allusion to Jesus. This symbol recurs in some Christian hymns and popular song lyrics. For example, in the refrain to the gospel song "Healing" (1999), Richard Smallwood and his choir ensemble sing the assertion "There is a balm in Gilead".
Other occurrences in literature
"There Is A Balm In Gilead", dating back at least to 1852, is a traditional African-American spiritual or hymn that uses the metaphor: "There is balm in Gilead,/ To make the wounded whole ; There's power enough in heaven, / To cure a sin-sick soul."
SEPASAL (Database of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (UK) = http://www.kew.org/ceb/sepasal/) Felter, HW Lloyd Ju. King's American Dispensatory (18th edition). Sandy/Eclectic Medical Publications; 1898 
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