We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Are the Medicinal Uses of Balm of Gilead?

By Adrien-Luc Sanders
Updated Feb 29, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

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.

How To Make Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead is made from the resin of balsam poplar, narrowleaf balsam poplar and black cottonwood trees. The process involves harvesting buds from the tree and soaking them in liquid, usually oil, to extract the medicinal resin.

Harvesting the Resin

It is possible to obtain resin from the bark of the tree, but the more common approach is to pick the buds. Buds are harvested in late winter and early spring when leaves have not yet grown and the buds are fragrant and sticky with resin.

When gathering buds, be mindful of the health of the tree. Do not harvest more than a third of the buds on the tree. Experts recommend leaving the terminal bud on the end of each branch, as this allows the branch to continue growing. If it appears that animals have been eating the buds or someone else has already harvested from a particular tree, don't take any more buds.

Harvest only as many buds as you can use. If you can't use them right away, they can be dried or frozen. Freezing is generally preferable to drying, as dried buds are less potent.

Extracting the Resin

For medicinal use, you must separate the resin from the buds and make an infusion. Olive oil is the most popular choice for this.

To make Balm of Gilead-infused olive oil, fill a mason jar about halfway with buds and fill the rest of the jar with oil, leaving an inch or two for expansion. Cover the jar with a napkin, paper towel or coffee filter, securing it with a rubber band or mason jar ring band. This allows moisture to evaporate.

Allow the buds to soak in the oil for at least a month, shaking or stirring every few days. Some people let their buds steep for up to a year. When the oil is ready, strain out and compost the buds. The infused oil should last for several years and can be used by itself, as a carrier oil for essential oils, or as an ingredient in healing salves.

Other infusion techniques include steeping the buds in honey to make a cough syrup or in alcohol to make a tincture. These methods are ideal for those who wish to use Balm of Gilead internally.

Making Ointments and Salves

There are many different recipes for Balm of Gilead salves and ointments. Some recipes involve simply mixing the infused oil with beeswax, while others include additional plant and animal fats, such as:

  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Shea butter
  • Lard
  • Tallow

Vitamin E is commonly added to salves, both for additional health benefits and to extend its shelf life. Salves may also include essential oils for added fragrance and medicinal properties.

What Is Balm of Gilead Used For?

Balm of Gilead oil and salve are believed to offer relief from a variety of symptoms.

Stretch Marks and Scars

Due to its salicylic acid content, Balm of Gilead has many skin benefits. It may reduce the appearance of scars, stretch marks, wrinkles and fine lines. Some people use the salve to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy; however, as with many herbal remedies, people who are pregnant or nursing should consult a professional before use.

Dry or Irritated Skin

Balm of Gilead may relieve redness, inflammation and irritation caused by sunburn, eczema or psoriasis. It can also be used to make lip balm and moisturizing ointment for dry, cracked hands and feet. Adding vitamin E may enhance these healing properties.

Cuts and Scrapes

A jar of salve is useful to have on hand as a natural first-aid for cuts, scrapes, burns and insect bites. It helps soothe the pain and inflammation of the wound, and its antibacterial properties can reduce the risk of infection.

Aches and Pains

The salve may offer relief from muscle and joint pain when applied to the affected area. Some people with arthritis find that Balm of Gilead soothes their inflammation and pain.

Respiratory Issues

Balm of Gilead-infused honey is a popular remedy for coughs and sore throats, especially when stirred into a hot cup of tea. It may also work as an expectorant, loosening chest congestion.

Is Balm of Gilead Edible?

As an herbal remedy, Balm of Gilead is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, people have used it for thousands of years, and it is generally deemed safe to use internally. Using too much may upset your stomach, so use caution. If you have concerns about the safety of any herbal product, consult a professional herbalist.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
On this page
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.