The herb Balm, or Melissa, which is cultivated quite commonly

in our cottage gardens, has its origin in the wild, or bastard Balm,

growing in our woods, especially in the South of England, and

bearing the name of Mellitis. Each is a labiate plant, and

Bawme, say the Arabians, makes the heart merry and joyful.

The title, Balm, is an abbreviation of Balsam, which signifies

the chief of sweet-smelling oils; Hebrew, Bal sm
n, chief of

oils; and the botanical suffix, Melissa, bears reference to the

large quantity of honey (mel) contained in the flowers of this


When cultivated, it yields from its leaves and tops an essential oil

which includes a chemical principle, or stearopten. The juice of

Balm, as Gerard tells us, glueth together greene wounds, and

the leaves, say [40] both Pliny and Dioscorides, being applied, do

close up woundes without any perill of inflammation. It is now

known as a scientific fact that the balsamic oils of aromatic plants

make most excellent surgical dressings. They give off ozone, and

thus exercise anti-putrescent effects. Moreover, as chemical

hydrocarbons, they contain so little oxygen, that in wounds

dressed with the fixed balsamic herbal oils, the atomic germs of

disease are starved out. Furthermore, the resinous parts of these

balsamic oils, as they dry upon the sore or wound, seal it up, and

effectually exclude all noxious air. So the essential oils of balm,

peppermint, lavender, and the like, with pine oil, resin of

turpentine, and the balsam of benzoin (Friars' Balsam) should

serve admirably for ready application on lint or fine rag to cuts and

superficial sores. In domestic surgery, the lamentation of Jeremiah

falls to the ground: Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no

physician there? Concerning which balm of Gilead, it may be

here told that it was formerly of great esteem in the East as a

medicine, and as a fragrant unguent. It was the true balsam of

Judea, which at one time grew nowhere else in the whole world

but at Jericho. But when the Turks took the Holy Land, they

transplanted this balsam to Grand Cairo, and guarded its shrubs

most jealously by Janissaries during the time the balsam was


In the Treacle Bible, 1584, Jeremiah viii., v. 22, this passage is

rendered: Is there not treacle at Gylead? Venice treacle, or

triacle, was a famous antidote in the middle ages to all animal

poisons. It was named Theriaca (the Latin word for our present

treacle) from the Greek word Therion, a small animal, in

allusion to the vipers which were added to the triacle by

Andromachus, physician to the emperor Nero.

[41] Tea made of our garden balm, by virtue of the volatile oil,

will prove restorative, and will promote perspiration if taken hot

on the access of a cold or of influenza; also, if used in like manner,

it will help effectively to bring on the delayed monthly flow with

women. But an infusion of the plant made with cold water, acts

better as a remedy for hysterical headache, and as a general

nervine stimulant because the volatile aromatic virtues are not

dispelled by heat. Formerly, a spirit of balm, combined with lemon

peel, nutmeg, and angelica-root, enjoyed a great reputation as a

restorative cordial under the name of Carmelite water. Paracelsus

thought so highly of balm that he believed it would completely

revivify a man, as primum ens melissoe. The London Dispensatory

of 1696 said: The essence of balm given in Canary wine every

morning will renew youth, strengthen the brain, relieve languishing

nature, and prevent baldness. Balm, adds John Evelyn, is

sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully

chasing away melancholy. In France, women bruise the young shoots

of balm, and make them into cakes, with eggs, sugar, and rose

water, which they give to mothers in childbed as a strengthener.

It is fabled that the Jew Ahasuerus (who refused a cup of water to

our Saviour on His way to Golgotha, and was therefore doomed to

wander athirst until Christ should come again) on a Whitsuntide

evening, asked for a draught of small beer at the door of a

Staffordshire cottager who was far advanced in consumption. He

got the drink, and out of gratitude advised the sick man to gather

in the garden three leaves of Balm, and to put them into a cup of

beer. This was to be repeated every fourth day for twelve days, the

refilling of the cup to be continued as often as might be wished;

then the [42] disease shall be cured and thy body altered. So

saying, the Jew departed and was never seen there again. But the

cottager obeyed the injunction, and at the end of the twelve days

had become a sound man.