March 04, 2015

"There is a balm in Gilead" — in Israel's Arava desert

Biblical balm of Gilead bush in Israel's Arava desert
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" (Jeremiah 8:22)

"There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul." (African American spiritual, chorus)

This young biblical balm of Gilead bush is growing in experimental fields of Israel's Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. (The Arava is the sparsely populated long desert valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern extension of the Red Sea.)
Today, some medical and botanical researchers and biblical and archeological scholars believe that the balm of Gilead, or "golden" balsam oil, was one of the most expensive commodities in the ancient world and prized above any metal. Its sap turns golden color when processed, and has been used for millennia (like frankincense and myrrh) in perfumes and as holy oil, offerings, and health remedies.