Balsam is the resinous exudate (or sap) which forms on certain kinds of trees and shrubs. Balsam (from Latin balsamum "gum of the balsam tree", ultimately from Semitic, Aramaic busma, Arabic balsam and Hebrew basam, "spice", "perfume") owes its name to the biblical Balm of Gilead.

Balsamum tolutanum, Myroxylon balsamum
Myroxylon, the source of Balsam of Peru and Balsam of Tolu, is a genus of tree grown in Central America and South America. Pictured Myroxylon peruiferum.


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][3] Plant resins are sometimes classified according to other plant constituents in the mixture, for example as:[2]

Usually, animal secretions (musk, shellac, beeswax) are excluded from this definition.

The Balsam of Matariyya

The Balsam of Matariyya was a substance famous as a panacea among physicians in the Middle East and Europe during the Antique and Medieval periods. The substance has long been used as a medicine, with early references to the substance recorded as far back as 285 BC. The Balsam of Matariyya was said to be derived from an Egyptian plant and is sometimes also referred to as the balm of Gilead or the balm of Mecca.[4]

List of balsams


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

See also

  • Basamum


  1. Klemens Fiebach; Dieter Grimm (2007), "Resins, Natural", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 2, doi:10.1002/14356007.a23_073
  2. Andrew Pengelly (2004), "Essential oils and resins", The constituents of medicinal plants (2nd ed.), Allen & Unwin, p. 102
  3. "Balsam" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). 1911.
  4. MILWRIGHT, MARCUS (June 2003). "The balsam of Matariyya: an exploration of a medieval panacea". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 66 (2): 193–209. doi:10.1017/s0041977x03000119. ISSN 0041-977X. S2CID 163105374.
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