Herb Library

Back to Herb Menu     Back to Index

DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Balsam Balsam of Peru Balsam of Tolu

aka A'riandak' (Chippewa), Balm of Gilead. Balsam Fir, Balsam spruce, Canada Balsam, Canada Fir
(Abies balsamea syn Pinus balsamea)
image 1 image 2

CONTAINS: Bornyl acetate 14.6%; b-pinene 36.1%; 3-carene 11.1%, limonene 11.1%, camphene 6.8%, a-pinene 8.4%.

An evergreen tree with a strong balsam scent which is native to North America and growing to a height of 25 feet. The bark is gray, becoming scaly with maturity and containing blisters full of resin. The twigs are minutely hairy. The needles are 12 to 15 mm long with white lines on the undersides with the ends rounded and twisted at the base. They are attached directly to the twigs. The cones are 5 to 10 cm long with rounded scales that fall off. The male and female flowers appear on the branchlets of the previous year's growth. Female flowers are usually high on the tree with the male flowers hanging lower down. Both are purplish when young.
In 1672, John Josselyn reported the pitch of the tree to be effective against a 'stitch in the side'. A piece of bread was toasted, then dipped on the pitch and bound warm to the side. The resin was thought to be equal or superior to Copaiba in cough drops.
Early uses indicate it was combined with other substances for a variety of ailments. Combined and warmed with the white of an egg or warm breast milk, it was used to brighten the eyes. New wounds were treat by combining it with vinegar and milk. It was combined with pork fat or suet and used on burns. Combined with warmed wine, it was used for earache. Combined with rose oil and chalk it was applied to swollen nipples. With wine and vinegar it was taken for dysentary. With breast milk, it was applied to anal pustules. Aloes were mixed with egg whites until the mixture was thick, balsam added and then applied to fractures of heavily bleeding wounds. Combined with oregano it was believed to cure any illness of the head or tongue. Combined with goose fat or suet, it was used for burns. A product called 'Balsam traumatick" which was used in wound dressings was one of the medicines taken by Lewis and Clark on their expedition.
The liquid oleo-resin was officinal in the USP 1820-1916. Since 1916 in the USPand 1926 in the NF, it has been recognized as a medium for mounting microscopic specimens and as cement for lenses. By the mid 1800's, therapeutic uses gave way to harvesting the tree for the resin and 'oil of turpentine'. Black rosin or 'fiddler's rosin' was produced by extracting the oil, then processing until all moisture was removed.
Firs are said to be ruled by Jupiter.

PROPAGATION: By seed in spring. Grown as an ornamental.
NEEDS: Deep, moist, well-draining, slightly acid soil in sun or shade with light shade preferred. Young trees are more tolerant of alkaline conditions. Cut out competing shoots flush with the main stem in the spring leaving only one leading shoot. Can be prone to rust and sap-sucking insects. Trees are bothered by air-borne pollution.
HARVEST: Leaves and young shoots in spring. Bark is taken at any time. Resin is tapped from mature trees (60 to 80 years old) in spring for the oil. The oleo-resin is taken in summer from the blisters on the trunk and used fresh or dried or distilled into oil.
PART USED: Twigs, leaves, bark, oleo-resin, oil.
SOLVENT: Water and alcohol.
Abies balsamea 'Hudsonia' is also used in the same manner.


Aromatic, astringent, antiseptic, diuretic, emollient, cooling, expectorant, laxative, stimulant, circulatory stimulant.
Was used commercially at one time in cough mixtures and in formulas to combat diarrhea (excess is purgative).
The resin was used externally as a liniment for rheumatism, while the twigs, bark and leaves were added to the steam bath for sore muscles and sluggish skin.
The gum was used as antiseptic and resolvent, for mucous catarrhs, and as a plaster for burns. The tips of the branches were used mashed in water for scurvy and as a preventative for the same.
Was used externally in the bath to relieve rheumatic pain, sore nipples, and for wounds and cuts.
The penetrating oil (distilled with water) was used for internal ulcers, but also produced a urinary inflammation. Only a few drops were considered safe.
Was used externally for sciatica, chronic rheumatism and paralysis. Also for old and indolent ulcers and sores.
Was used for bronchitis, coughs, gonorrhea, gleet, inflammation of the bladder, kidney conditions, whites, typhoid, urinary problems, and ulcerations of the bowels.
Once used in Canada mixed with camphorated oil as a chest rub for bronchial colds.
The oleo-resin (aka Canada balsam) was used by Native Americans for chest infections, venereal disease, wounds and burns.
The oil was used in ointments and creams, particularly those for hemorrhoids.
Was used by Native Americans for colds, coughs, asthma, consumptions.
Resin was used by the Penobscots to smear over burns, sores and cuts. They employed the fir twigs to make a drink before entering the sweat bath.
The Montagnais applied the gum to chest or back for pain in the heart region or chest and steeped balsam twigs to make a strong laxative. They soaked the fir twigs in hot water, then made it into a mash to place on the skin and draw out inflammation.
The Menomines used the fresh liquid pressed from the blisters of the trunk for colds and lung troubles. They also steeped the inner bark for tea which was taken for pains in the chest. They also used the fresh resin for poultices and as a seasoner for other medicines.
The Ojibwa scraped the bark from the trunk and used it in decoction form to induce sweating. They took the gum internally as a remedy for gonorrhea, chest colds and sore chest; it was also used externally for sores and cuts.
The Flambeau Ojibwa used the liquid balsam on sore eyes; the leaves as a reviver and in combination with other plants as a wash.
The Pillager Ojibwa used the needles in sweat baths and placed them on hot coals to inhale the fumes for colds. They also used the gum for colds and sores. (Hudson Bay indians used the bark for the same purpose).
The Forest Potawatomis used the liquid from the blisters for colds, as a salve for sores, and in infusion for for consumptions and internal problems.
The gum was used by the Kwakiutls as a laxative, while the root of the tree was held in the mouth to cure sores there.
The Hurons valued it for colds and swellings. The juice was used for bowel problems.
The Chippewa placed the gum on hot stones until it melted, then inhaled the fumes for convulsions. They also used it for headaches. They also made a decoction of the root and sprinkled it on hot stones with the resulting steam being used to treat rheumatism.
The Hudson Bay indians peeled the bark away leaving the blisters open to dry the contents. When dry, they collected it, calling it 'weakoc' and used it on wounds.
The Mohawk collected the gum runs from the tree with a spoon on a night of the full moon. It was used for wounds. A few drops were added to a cup of hot water for a cold. It was used in combination with the kidneys of a beaver to make a plaster for cancer; when done, the plaster was buried wrapped in the skin of a muskrat as it was believed burning it would spread the sickness to others through the smoke.
The Algonquins of Temiscaming used balsam for burns and abcesses.
The Tete de Boule used the mashed gum for colds and applied it to sores.
The Mic mac Malecite applied it to frostbitten limbs by boiling it in a clam shell. They also used to make a showshoe-like device which was was fastened to frozen feet. Also for colds, bruises, burns, colic, diarrhea, fractures, gonorrhea, as a laxtive, and for sores and wounds.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
COMPOUND GLYCERITE = 1 oz. balsam fir, 4 oz. glycerine, 4 oz. honey, mixed and given 1 tsp 4 times daily.

Used for albuminuria, amblyopia, asthma, backache, irritable bladder, bronchial neuralgia, cystitis, dropsy, dysentary, dysmenorrhea, enteric fever, epilepsy, erysipelas bullosa, erythema, fibroa, gallstone colic, swollen gland, gleet, gonorrhea, hematuria, hemorrhoids, strangulated hernia, herpes labialis pudendi, rabies, hypochondria, insanity, ulcerated intestines, iritis, jaundice, congestion of the kidneys, lumbago, neuralgia, ovarian pain, strangury, tetanus, tympanites, uremia, suppressed urine, and worms.
DOSE = 5 to 10 minims

Gum has been sold in the past for chewing.
Oleo-resin used as adhesive for microscope lenses (as a lens cement and sealing agent for mounting slides.)
The oleo-resin obtained from the resin and essential oil (distilled from twigs and bark) is used on a limited basis to flavor candies, baked goods, ice cream, and beverages. It is also used in perfumes and household sprays.
The Tete de Boule tossed the branches on the floor of their dwellings to act as mats and bedding.
The Forest Potawatomi used the fir needles to make pillows in the belief the fragrance protected a person from catching a cold.
The Ojibwa chopped a hole in the trunk and let the resin collect, then harden. It was then boiled and used as canoe pitch with a second boiling combined with suet or fat to make a pitch of the proper consistency. Other Native Americans also used the gum to caulk their canoes.
The Chippewa used the gum combined with bear grease as a hair ointment.
At one time, flour from Canada was being shipped to the French West Indies packed in barrels made from the wood of the tree resulting in the flour absorbing a disagreeable odor and taste. The practice was abandoned.
Was used as a mouthwash.
The buds (contain tannin and the bitter glycoside picein) have been used as an adulterant or substitute for Balm of Gilead (Poplar, Balsam).
Oil used in dentistry as a sealant.
Used as a fixative and fragrance in soaps, cosmetics and perfumes.
The bark was combined with the bark of the paper birch (Betula alba), grated and eaten by the Montagnais as being beneficial to the diet.
The Montagnais and Hurons ate the inner bark during times of famine.

aka Balsam of Tolu, Toluifera pereira, Myrospermum pereira
(Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae)

CONTRAINDICATED: •People prone to allergies should avoid. Possible allergic skin reaction.
•NOT with acute inflammation or fever.

CONTAINS: 50% to 70% of an ester mixture composed mainly of benzyl, esters of benzoic and cinnamic acid; also dark resin, peruviol, and vanillin.

Native to Central America and the forests of San Salvador, it is a large, attractive tree with a mahogany-like wood and a straight, smooth trunk which is gray in color. The resin (bactericidal and mildly antiseptic) is a thick flammable liquid which changes from a yellow color to dark brown; the smell is balsamic and aromatic, some saying vanilla-like but with a bitter taste. The leaves are alternate and pinnate with 2 pairs of leaflets being mostly opposite, ovate and lanceolate with the end blunt. The resinous juice is found in every part of the tree. The 'beans' (pods) contain coumarin and the husks contain an acrid, bitter resin and a volatile oil. A gum resin exudes from the trunk. The flower has a strong fragrance. The tree starts to be productive after 5 to 6 years and continues to yield for 30 years. The balsam is extracted from the scorched tree stems. There are 3 grades of balsam from the extraction process. A white balsam is made from the fruit and called myroxocarpin. Another substance from the same tree is called 'Balsamito' (an alcoholic extract of the young fruit).

PART USED: Resin (balsam), twigs and bark.
Myroxylon frutescens from Trinidad. The pod has been used as a carminative and externally in tincture form. The stems yeild a balsamic juice used as a lotion for rheumatism.
Guina-guina from Paraguay: The bark has been used in powder and decoction forms for wounds and ulcers; also the dried concrete juice of the trunk is very similar to Balsam of Peru.

Tonic, expectorant, pectoral, vulernary, stimulant, parasicide. Increases blood pressure. Resembles benzoic acid in action.
'Balsamito' is stimulant, diuretic, anthelmintic and used externally on gangrenous ulcers and to remove freckles.
Promotes the granulation process.
Has been used as an antiparasitic, especially for scabies.
Has been used for bronchitis, gleet, gonorrhea, leuccorhea, and asthma.
Has been used for similar complaints as Balm of Copaiba, but more specifically used for rheumatism and chronic coughs.
Has been used externally for infected or poorly healing wounds, skin infections, burns, decubitus ulcers, frostbite, ulcis curis, bruises caused by prostheses, ringworm, eczema and for hemorrhoids.
Has been used for skin diseases; also the later stages of acute eczema.
Has been used for discharge from ears and sore nipples.
Has been used for chronic mucous conditions, catarrh, diarrhea and dysentary.
The twigs and bark have been used for rheumatism, kidney problems, gleet, inflammation of the bladder and urinary problems.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
5 to 25 minims; best given in syrup with an egg yolk added, or with gum arabic.
Galenical (meaning one or more active constituents of the plant has been extracted) preparations should contain 5 to 20% of Balsam of Peru. If a large area of skin is to be covered, it should contain no more than 10%. Treatment should last no longer than 1 week.
OINTMENT = Combine with an equal amount of tallow.

Has been known to be adulterated with castor oil, copaiba, and Canada turpentine.
Used commercially in fungicidal, antiseptic and anti-itch creams and in some dental cements.
Used in soap making for its fragrance and the soft, creamy lather it produces (good for chapped hands).

aka Balsamum Americanum, Balsamum Tolutanum, Tolutanisher Balsam
(Myroxylon balsamum syn Myrospermum Toluiferum)
No Image Available

CONTRAINDICATED: •People prone to allergies should avoid. Possible allergic skin reaction.
•NOT with acute inflammation or fever.

CONTAINS: About 80% amorphous resin, cinnamic acid, volatile oil, a little vanillin, benzyl benzoate, and benzyl cinnimate. It is freely soluble in chloroform, glacial acetic acid, acetone, ether, alcohol and liquor potassa; it is barely soluble in petrolum-benzene and benzal. To distinguish it from Balsam of Peru it can be tested with sulfuric acid and water, yielding a gray mass rather than the violet of the Peruvian species.

A tree found in many parts of South America, especially New Granada, plains and mountains near Carthagena, Tolu and the Magdelena province of Columbia.
V-shaped cuts are made in tree and the liquid collected in containers. At one time they were emptied into flasks of rawhide and conveyed by donkeys to a collection site, then shipped in tin or earthen containers which sometimes contained large pieces of red brick. The balsam is soft and sticky, but on exposure to air becomes hard and brittle and more like resin with a crystalline appearance which is pale yellowish-red or brown in color. It again becomes soft when chewed, having an aromatic, resinous taste with a smell resembling vanilla or benzoin. It is especially fragrant when burned, but changes to an odor resembling clove pinks if dropped into a tiny bit of liquor potassa. As the balsam solidifies, the odor becomes weaker, but the quantity of cinnamic acid increases, making it valuable to perfumers as a fixative. One ounce is added to a pound of perfume.
It has been adulterated in the past with turpentines, styrax, and colophony. It can be tested by heating in sulphuric acid. If pure, it will yield a cherry-red liquid and dissolve without any appearance of sulphurous acid.

PART USED: The exudation.


Stimulant, expectorant. Used as the basis of cough mixtures.
Has been made into tinctures, syrup, lozenges, incense and pastilles.
When dissolved in ether and inhaled, has been used for chronic catarrh and other inflammations of the chest. According to Maude Grieve (A Modern Herbal) the best form is that of an emulsion made by titurating balsam with mucilage and loaf sugar, then adding to water.
Liniment (for excoriated nipples) = 2 parts Balm of Tolu, 3 parts almond oil, 4 parts gum arabic, 16 parts rose water.

Used for chronic bronchitis.

©2001 by Ernestina Parziale, CH