Balm of Gilead is a type of medicinal salve made from the gum of the tree of the same name. The tree is also commonly known as the balsam poplar and Canada balsam. The gum of the tree can be rendered down into ointment, oil, or salve, which can be used to treat anything from eczema to sunburn, frostbite, dry skin, sprains, bruises, and rashes. The salicin in the tree's buds have a pain-killing effect that is useful for many conditions, from arthritis to tendinitis. For this reason, it has also been referred to as organic aspirin.
As a skin care treatment, Balm of Gilead is used as a topical moisturizer and painkiller. For conditions such as eczema, sunburn, and bursitis, the balm soothes irritation, inflammation, and pain while promoting healing. Other oils and moisturizers can be mixed in for a skin-hydrating effect, or to further improve skin condition and pliancy. In mild concentrations, it can even be useful for diaper rash. Some people have also used it for the treatment of scars, keloids, and stretch marks.
For chronic pain conditions and wounds, the application of Balm of Gilead can relieve symptoms or discomfort. The effects of the balm penetrate the skin to soothe muscle and bone pain, numb bruises, and calm inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties also make it useful for reducing fevers, when combined with other herbs and taken internally. Other internal uses include treatments for colds, coughs, sore throats, and laryngitis. Some speculate the resin has antibacterial or antiviral properties.
The plant is named after a reference to the "healing Balm of Gilead" in the Christian Bible. The balm is made by extracting the resin from the buds of the trees. Although the balm can be bought in many herbal, pharmaceutical, or convenience stores, it can also be made by hand. The resin can be collected from slits in the bark of the tree, or extracted from the buds. The buds can be gathered from local trees or purchased, then suspended in oil. When kept for a long period of time in an airtight container, the mixture will eventually withdraw the resin from the buds and into the oil.
Depending on concentration and individual reactions, Balm of Gilead can have minor to severe side effects. Some experience a rash or redness where applied, but allergic reactions can cause varying problems. There may also be adverse effects for pregnant or nursing women, or those suffering kidney or liver disease.