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For other uses, see Balsam (disambiguation).

Balsam (also: turpentine) is the resinous exudate (or sap), which forms on certain kinds of trees and shrubs. Balsam (from Hebrew bosem בֹּשֶׂם, "spice", "perfume") owes its name to the biblical Balm of Gilead.[citation needed]


Balsam is a solution of plant-specific resins in plant-specific solvents (essential oils). Such resins can include resin acids, esters, or alcohols. The exudate is a mobile to highly viscous liquid and often contains crystallized resin particles. Over time and as a result of other influences the exudate loses its liquidizing components or gets chemically converted into a solid material (i.e. by autoxidation).[1]

Some authors require balsams to contain benzoic or cinnamic acid or their esters.[2]

Resins are difficult to classify because of their amorphous nature.[2] Even the term "resin" is not sharply defined.[3] Several attempts were made to differentiate between waxes and other classes of substance, particularly fats, resins, and high molar mass polymers, by using several criteria. These primarily physical definitions are to some extent arbitrary and are not generally accepted.[4]

Plant resins are sometimes classified as mixtures with other plant constituents, for example as pure resins (guaiac, hashish) gum-resins (containing gums/polysaccharides), oleo-gum-resins (a mixture of gums, resins and essential oils), oleo-resins (a mixture of resins and essential oils, e. g. capsicum, ginger and aspidinol), balsams (resinous mixtures that contain cinnamic and/or benzoic acid or their esters), and glycoresins (podophyllin, jalap, kava kava).[2]

There is also rubber (latex), which consists of 1,4-polyisoprene.[5]

Non-plant natural resins include fossil and mined resins (amber, Utah resin, asphaltite), and animal resins (shellac).[1]


Some balsams, such as Balsam of Peru, may be associated with allergies.[6][7] In particular, Euphorbia latex ("wolf's milk") is strongly irritant and cytotoxic.[citation needed]

List of balsam-like substances[edit]

Gum resins

Balsam of Mecca[edit]

The liquid balsam called Balsam of Mecca is extracted from the tree Commiphora gileadensis (synonym: Commiphora opobalsamum)[8] It is designated in the Bible by various names: bosem, besem, ẓori, nataf, and, in rabbinic literature, kataf, balsam, appobalsamon, afarsemon. It was used as a perfume and as a drug.[9]

It was extracted both as the volatile component of the sap of the tree, and by boiling the stems and leaves.[9] It was the only tropical, and the most expensive, spice grown in Israel.[10] It was known to Pliny (Historia Naturalis 12:116; 13.18) as opobalsamum.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Klemens Fiebach; Dieter Grimm (2007), "Resins, Natural", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 2 
  2. ^ a b c Andrew Pengelly (2004), "Essential oils and resins", The constituents of medicinal plants (2nd ed.), Allen & Unwin, p. 102 
  3. ^ Gerd Collin; et al. (2007), "Resins, Synthetic", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 1 
  4. ^ Uwe Wolfmeier; et al. (2007), "Waxes", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 3 
  5. ^ Heinz-Hermann Greve (2007), "Rubber, Natural", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 1 
  6. ^ Edward T. Bope, Rick D. Kellerman (2013). Conn's Current Therapy 2014: Expert Consult. Elsevier Health Sciences. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Balsam of Peru induced contact allergy", Accessed: October 11, 2007
  8. ^ Lumír O. Hanuš; et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers 149 (1): 3–23, doi:10.5507/bp.2005.001, PMID 16170385 
  9. ^ a b Groom, N. (1981). Frankincense and Myrrh: A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade. London and New York: Longman, Librairie de Liban. pp. 126–129. ISBN 0-582-76476-9. 
  10. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Balsam", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 95 
  11. ^ "opobalsamum", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1254