Balsam (Gr. βάλσαμον, i.e. opobalsamum, Arab. balasan), the fragrant resin of the balsam-tree, possessing medicinal properties; according to Pliny (12:54), indigenous only to Judaea, but known to Diodorus Sic. (3:46) as a product of Arabia also. In Palestine, praised by other writers also for its balsam (Justin, 36:3; Tacit. Hist. v. 6; Plutarch, Vita Anton. c. 36; Florus, 3, 5, 29; Dioscor. 1:18), this plant was cultivated in the environs of Jericho (Strabo, 16:763; Diod. Sic. 2:48; 19:98), in gardens set apart for this use (Pliny 12:54; see Joseph. Ant. 14:4, 1; 15:4, 2; War, 1:6, 6); and after the destruction of the state of Judaea, these plantations formed a lucrative source of the Roman imperial revenue (see Diod. Sic. 2:48). Pliny distinguishes three different species of this plant; the first with thin, capillaceous leaves; the second a crooked scabrous shrub; and the third with smooth rind and of taller growth than the two former. He tells us that, in general, the balsam plant, a shrub, has the nearest resemblance to the grapevine, and its mode of cultivation is almost the same. The leaves, however, more closely resemble those of the rue, and the plant is an evergreen. Its height does not exceed two cubits. From slight incisions made very cautiously into the rind (Joseph. Ant. 14:4, 1; War, 1:6, 6) the balsam trickles in thin drops, which are collected with wool into a horn, and then preserved in new earthen jars. At first it is whitish and pellucid, but afterward it becomes harder and reddish. That is considered to be the best quality which tiickles before the appearance of the fruit. Much inferior to this is the resin pressed from the seeds, the rind, and even from the stems (see Theophrast. Plantt. 9:6; Strabo, 16:763; Pausan. 9:28, 2). This description, which is not sufficiently characteristic of the plant itself, suits for the most part the Egyptian balsam-shrub found by Belon (Paulus, Samml. 4:188 sq.) in a garden near Cairo (the plant, however, is not indigenous to Egypt, but the layers are brought there from Arabia Felix; Prosp. Alpin. De balsamo, 3; Plant. Eg. 14:30, with the plate; Abdollatif, Memoirs, p. 58). Forskal found between Mecca and Medina a shrub, abusham (Niebuhr, Reis. 1:351), which he considered to be the genuine balsam-plant, and he gave its botanical description under the name Amyris opobalsamum, in his Flora Egypt. Arab. p. 79 sq., together with two other varieties, Amyris kataf and Amyris kafal. There are two species distinguished in the Linnsean system, the Amyris Gileadensis (Forsk. "A. opobals.") and A. opobals. (the species described by Belon and Alpin); see Linne's Vollst. Pflanzensyst. 1:473 sq., plates; Plenck, Plantt. Med. pl. 155; Berlin. Jahrb. d. Pharmac. 1795, pl. 1; Ainslie, Mater. Indica, 1:26 sq. More recent naturalists have included the species Amnyr's Gilead. in the genus Protium; see Wight and Walker (Arnott), Prodromn. flore peninsulae India Orient. (London, 1834), 1:177; Lindley, Flora Medica (London, 1838, 8vo), p. 169. This tree, from which the Mecca balsam is gained in very small quantity (Pliny 12:54, "succus e plaga manat ... sed tenui gutta plorata"), which never reaches us unadulterated, grows only in a single district of Yemen; of late, however, it was discovered in the East Indies also. See generally Prosp. Alpin. Dial. de balsalmo (Venet. 1591; as also, in several editions of his work De Plantt. fAq. p. 1592; and in Ugolini, Thesaur. 11, with plates); Veiling, Opobalsami veterib. cogniti indclcice, p. 217 sq.; Bochart, Hieroz. 1:628 sq.; Michaelis, Suppl. 2142
sq.; Le Moyne, Diss. Opobalsam. declaratzum (Upsal. 1764); Wildenow, in the Berl. Jahrb. d. Pharmac. 1795, p. 143 sq., with plates; Oken, sehrb. d. Botanik, II, 2:681 sq.; Martins, Pharmakogn. p. 343 sq.; Sprengel, Zu Dioscor. 2:355 sq.
Our only reason for mentioning all this is of course the presupposition that the Palestinian balsam is named in the Bible also, and, indeed, the bosem (בֹּשֶׂם, Song 5:13), also basam (בָּשָׂם, v. 1; comp. Arab. bashaums), which in both passages appear to be names of garden plants, must be taken for the balsam-shrub (the ancient translators consider the word as a name). It is more difficult to determine whether the resin of the balsam tree is mentioned also in the books of the O.T. The tseri or tsori (צרִי or צַרִי) is commonly taken for such. This name is given to a precious resin found in Gilead (Ge 37:25; Jer 46:11), and circulated as an article of merchandise by Arab and Phoenician merchants (Ge 37:25; Eze 27:17). It was one of the principal products of Palestine which was thought to be worthy to be offered as a gift even to Egyptian princes (Ge 43:11), and was considered a powerful salve (Jer 8:22; Jer 46:11; Jer 51:8). Hebrew commentators understand, in fact, balsam by tseri. The ancient translators render it mostly by gum. Others, however (Oedmann, Sanml. 3, 110 sq.; Rosenmüller, Alterth. IV, 1:168 sq.), take it to be the oil of the Myrobalanus of the ancients (Pliny 12:46 sq.) or the Elaeagnus angustifolia of Linnaeus. The fruit of this plant resembles the olive, and is of the size of a walnut. It contains a fat, oily kernel, from which the Arabs press an oil highly esteemed for its medicinal properties, especially for open wounds (Maundrell, in Paulus, Samml. 1, 110; Mariti, Trav. p. 415; Troilo, Trav. p. 107A. That this tree grows in Palestine, especially in the environs of Jericho, we are told not only by modern travelers (Hasselquist, Voyages, p. 150; Arvieux, 2:155; Pococke, East, 2:47 sq.; Volney, Voyages, 2:240; Robinson, 2:291), but even by Josephus (War, 4:8, 3). We must admit, however, that the Hebrew name tseri seems to imply rather a resin trickling from some plant than a pressed oil, and that the arguments of Rosenmüller in favor of his statement, that the Mecca balsam is a mere perfume and not a medicine, have not much weight (see Gesenius, Thes. 3, 1185). Our physicians make, indeed, no medicinal use of it; but we can never obtain the genuine Mecca balsam. The ancients certainly ascribed medicinal powers to the balsam (see Dioscor. ut sup.), and it is considered even at present as a medicine of well-attested quality, especially if applied externally (Prosp. Alpin. Rer. Eg.
3, 15, p. 192; Hasselquist, p. 565, "rescivi quod vulnerarium Turcis sit excellentissimum et palmarium, dum in vulnera recens inflicta guttas aliquot infundunt quo continuato brevissimo tempore vulnera maximi momenti persanant"). The tseri, therefore, might have been the balsam, and if so, the shrub, which originally grew in Gilead, may have been transplanted and cultivated as a garden-plant on the plains of Jericho, and preserved only there. We greatly doubt, however, whether the balsam shrub ever grew wild anywhere but in Arabia, and it seems to us more probable that it was brought from Arabia to Palestine, though, perhaps, not by the Queen of Sheba (Josephus, Ant. 8:6, 6). Besides the tseri (צרִי), another word, nataph (נָטָŠ), mentioned in Ex 30:34, as an ingredient of the holy incense, is taken by Hebrew commentators for opobalsamum; this, however, is perhaps rather STACTE SEE STACTE (q.v.). SEE MASTICK; SEE AROMATICS.