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The fruit is reddish grey, and size of a small pea, with an agreeable and aromatic taste.
In Europe and America it is so seldom found in a pure state that its use is entirely discontinued .
Balm of Gilead is still in high repute for healing in some countries. The American balm of Gilead is a species of poplar (Populus candicans) of family Salicaceae (willow family) which has large balsamic and fragrant buds. The tree is seldom seen in wild but was formerly a favorite dooryard tree of northern states. The buds were used in domestic medicine. This poplar is closely related to, and sometimes considered a variety of, balsam poplar (P. tacamahaca), which has also been called balm of Gilead and tacamahac. The name balm of Gilead has also been used for balsam fir and for a herbaceous aromatic, shrubby plant (Dracocephalum canariense or Cedronella canariensis) of family Labiatae (mint family) native to Canary Islands and cultivated in parts of United States.
Many names refer to this ancient herb, rich in history and in lore. Such as Balsam Poplar Buds, Canary Balm., Tacamahac Poplar, True Balm of Gilead and Willow Poplar Buds. The Queen of Sheba gave Solomon aromatic desert shrub balm of Gilead (Commiphora apobalsamum), found in Holy Land. Today this rare variety is protected and its export prohibited.
The balm of Gilead mentioned in Bible ("Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?") is believed to be an oleo-resin obtained from Balsamodendron, a plant now thought to be extinct.
Cedronella canariensis is a half hardy perennial with a height of 3 feet and a spread of 2 feet. The 3 lobed and toothed leaves are borne on square stems. The leaves have a strong eucalyptus scent. Pink or pale mauve flowers bloom throughout summer. The seed heads are dark black.
Propagation by cuttings is more reliable than seeds. They take readily either in early summer before flowering in new growth or in early fall on semi-ripe wood. Use bark, peat mix of potting soil. Being so aromatic, pests are not usually a problem.
Balm of Gilead grows quite well outside in a sheltered position. Plant in full sun, preferably against a warm, wind-protecting wall. It is a tender plant which may need protection in colder climates. If you get frosts lower that 29 degrees F, protect plant in winter months by either bringing it in a cool greenhouse or by covering it with landscaping cloth. Keep watering to an absolute minimum during winter months.
This herb makes a exquisite container plant. A 9-10 inch pot will be required for a plant to reach maturity. Use a free-draining soil and liquid feed a mature plant monthly throughout summer. The scent of leaves perfumes air when plant is watered or sun is shining on it.
With exception of modern research regarding healing benefits of Ginko Biloba, many of us overlook fact that trees also contain a number of healing properties. The Cherokee Indians of western North Carolina, for example discovered a tooth cleaning product within prolific growth of Dogwoods in area. Similar to what we now use to floss our teeth, tiny twigs were used with a cleaning benefit to teeth and gums. Many trees, roots, leaves and flowers contain medicinal properties.
Balm of Gilead has been reputed to treat a number of disorders such as acute and chronic affections of upper respiratory tract, cough, cuts, dental caries, minor aches and pains, (topical ointment), pimples, respiratory disorders, snakebite, sore throat and sores.
Pick leaves for drying before flowers open, when they will be at their most aromatic. Crush leaves in your hand and inhale wonderful aroma to clear your head. Rub leaves on your skin to help repel mosquitoes. Collect dry, black seed heads for lovely winter arrangements. References
Sievers, A.F. 1930. The Herb Hunters Guide. Misc. Publ. No. 77. USDA, Washington DC. Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; pgs., 206-207. The Herb Book, by John Lust, pgs., 319, 579. Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, pgs., 22, 225, 277. The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, pgs., 84, 203. Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, pg., 292. Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., pgs., 203, 414. American Folk Medicine, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 283. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, pg., 106. The Rodale Herb Book, edited by William H. Hylton, pg., 539.
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