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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]


Some balsams, such as Balsam of Peru, may be associated with allergies.[1][2] In particular, Euphorbia latex ("wolf's milk") is strongly irritant and cytotoxic.[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).[3]

Some authors require balsams to contain benzoic or cinnamic acid or their esters.[4] Plant resins are sometimes classified according to other plant constituents in the mixture, for example as:[4]

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)[5] 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.[6]

It was extracted both as the volatile component of the sap of the tree, and by boiling the stems and leaves.[6] It was the only tropical, and the most expensive, spice grown in Israel.[7] It was known to Pliny (Historia Naturalis 12:116; 13.18) as opobalsamum.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edward T. Bope, Rick D. Kellerman (2013). Conn's Current Therapy 2014: Expert Consult. Elsevier Health Sciences. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Balsam of Peru induced contact allergy", Accessed: October 11, 2007
  3. ^ Klemens Fiebach; Dieter Grimm (2007), "Resins, Natural", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 2 
  4. ^ a b Andrew Pengelly (2004), "Essential oils and resins", The constituents of medicinal plants (2nd ed.), Allen & Unwin, p. 102 
  5. ^ Lumír O. Hanuš; et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers 149 (1): 3–23, doi:10.5507/bp.2005.001, PMID 16170385 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Balsam", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 95 
  8. ^ "opobalsamum", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1254