Being the nostalgic type and tree nerds from way back, we could hardly wait to start infusing our own Balm of Gilead oil. Made from the buds of the balsam poplar tree native to our homeland of northern Wisconsin, Balm of Gilead has been popular since biblical times for its medicinal properties. There is so much history and lore surrounding this amazing plant that we thought it was worth a write-up to share our tree knowledge with you!
History & Lore
Balm of Gilead is mentioned multiple times in the Bible and is said to have been as important in those times as both frankincense and myrrh. Though there is speculation in some circles about what the original Balm of Gilead plant is, or if it even exists today, it is believed to be a type of Arabian balsam shrub. At the height of its popularity this balm's worth was said to be twice that of gold! I would argue that it still has incredible worth for those who have seen its medicinal merit.
Today there are multiple plants that are referred to as the Balm of Gilead. Here in North America they all refer to different poplar trees, also called cottonwood. Each variety of poplar tree has slightly different constituents, offering slightly different uses. We fell in love with the populus candicans variety for both its familiarity to us as well as its multitude of uses. This is the particular variety we use, so every mention of Balm of Gilead below refers to populus candicans.
Benefits & Uses
There are extensive medicinal uses relative to the poplar tree and all of its parts. Herbalists use the bark, leaves and buds in different concoctions to aid the body in healing. Because we use the buds in our infusions, we will be discussing their particular uses.
The list of properties attributed to the Balm of Gilead is long, but that is why its value is immeasurable. It is said to be anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal, as well as a stimulant, expectorant and analgesic. All those fancy words tell us how it can aid our body in its natural healing, but I prefer lists, so here is a list of some of the external uses for Balm of Gilead.
1. Pain Relief: The analgesic, or pain relieving benefits are an attribute of the Salicacea family of trees, which the balsam poplar is a part of. This is the same family of trees that brought us aspirin for pain relief. Applied topically, Balm of Gilead is said to relieve pain in much the same way aspirin does.
2. Sunburn & Frostbite: Aside from the pain relief associated with Balm of Gilead, it can help to prevent blistering from sunburn and infection from frostbite.
3. Hemorrhoids: Anti-inflammatory properties are said to help reduce the size of external hemorrhoids and ease the pain.
4. Cuts, wounds, and burns: All the “anti” properties are what help with healing skin conditions such as these. In fact, bees use the resin in their hives to both disinfect and seal.
5. Respiratory congestion: As an expectorant and stimulant it can be used to relieve respiratory congestion and other “cold” ailments as defined in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
To use Balm of Gilead externally, it can be applied in the form of a balm or salve and rubbed into trouble areas. The infused oil can also be used in massage to relieve sore muscles or when treating a large surface area, such as in the case of sunburn.
While its most notable use is external, Balm of Gilead is also used internally. While we do not recommend any of our products for internal use, it can be made into a tea it can be consumed or gargled for cough and sore throat. The infused oil can also be taken internally to soothe intestinal problems and for use as a laxative.
When considering using Balm of Gilead, as with any herb, it should be tested to make sure there is no reaction. As it is in the Salicacea family, it should not be used by anyone with an allergy to aspirin.