The Last Frontier

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to Make and Use Balm of Gilead

Balm of Gilead is a very handy addition to your first aid kit. In this article, I will tell you how to make Balm of Gilead, and how it can be used. It is mentioned in several places throughout the Bible. I’m not sure if the Balsam Poplar (Cottonwood) trees that we have in Alaska are the same ones mentioned, but they are of the Populus species, are commonly called Balm of Gilead, and have wonderful medicinal properties. In a future article, I will show you how to make Balm of Gilead cough syrup and cough drops.
Balsam Poplar Buds
Balsam Poplar buds

How to Make Balm of Gilead

The buds of the tree are used to make healing balms and cough remedies. The resin causes the buds to be very sticky; therefore, they are best collected when the temperatures are below freezing. If you wait until spring when the leaves begin to sprout, they will not be as potent for medicinal uses.

It is best to pick the buds during the winter
It is best to pick the buds when the temperatures are below
freezing because the buds are sticky when warm.

Collect at least a cupful of buds. You may want to make cough syrup after I post my follow-up article, so collect extra buds now and keep them in your freezer, if you have one.

Do not wash the buds. Try to collect them in dry weather, if possible, to reduce the water in your salve. Place the buds in a pan and cover with vegetable oil or melted, rendered animal fat. You may also use vegetable oils that are solid at room temperature such as palm oil and coconut oil. Melt them prior to pouring over the buds. The amount of oil isn’t an exact science. Just cover the buds so that you can stir them around a bit.

Infuse oil with the buds over low heat for a few hours
Cover buds with liquid oils, or melt rendered
animal fat or vegetable oils that are solid
at room temperature, such as palm or coconut.
Warm over very low heat for at least two hours. Because we have so much snow, I leave the lid off the pan for a little while to evaporate the water in the buds. If you are in a drier location and your buds aren’t covered with snow, covering the pan with a lid will retain more of the volatile oils. I set the pan on the coolest part of my woodburning cookstove for a few hours, and sometimes up to a few days. You could set the covered pan in the oven with only the pilot light burning. Just remember not to preheat the oven for baking while the pan is in there. Heating the oil and buds in the top of a double boiler for two or three hours is another good way to infuse the oil.

Stir the buds occasionally, and then strain through several layers of cheesecloth. I have found that I get a cleaner salve if I first strain through a wire sieve to remove the buds, and then through a few layers of cheesecloth.

If you are using liquid oil, you will probably want to thicken it with beeswax. Measure the infused oil and return to a clean pan. To each cup of oil, add 1 ½ to 2 Tbsp. beeswax. Over very low heat, or in the top of a double boiler, stir and melt the beeswax. Pour into clean tins or jars. Allow to cool and solidify before covering with lids. If your balm is too hard for your liking, melt with a little more oil. If it is too liquid, melt with a little more beeswax.

Beeswax can be purchased in blocks and chopped.
Use about 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp. per cup of infused oil
to thicken for salves.
Vitamin E and Benzoin are good, safe preservatives. You may wish to add a dropper of liquid Vitamin E oil or ¼ tsp of Tincture of Benzoin or Gum Benzoin to each cup of your infused oil prior to pouring into containers.

How To Use Balm Of Gilead

According to Janice Schofield in Discovering Wild Plants, Balsam Poplar and Quaking Aspen are in the Willow family, and contain salicin and populin. These glycosides are similar to aspirin, and are effective in reducing pain, inflammation, and fever.

Of all the herbal salves I make, this is the best one I’ve found for chapped hands and lips. Most people love the fragrance of Balm of Gilead. When my boys were babies, I often used it on their bottoms to prevent or heal diaper rash. Friends have used it for saddle sores. It helps heal cuts and scrapes, and is helpful for arthritis and sore muscles. Be sure to make plenty. Once you try it, you’ll want to share it with friends.
Jar of Balm of Gilead
Jar of Balm of Gilead, ready to use.
Another excellent book that will help you learn about using plants is "The Way of Herbs" by Michael Tierra. I refer to this book often.


  1. Jenny, you're amazing...what don't you do?! I love this, thanks so much for the photos to go along with the how-to's. I'm not sure I could get the buds here, though we do have the quaking aspens. Maybe I'll research it a bit.

    I must prefer to use natural things like this as I think the good Lord gave us everything we need in nature around us.

    Thanks for the good info!


  2. Hi Wendy. I'm very thankful for my interest in using wild plants. Since we can't just jump in the car and run into town to the emergency room, at least one of us needs to know about these things. I agree that natural things are usually better, and we have been provided with what we need.
    The Aspen and Balsam Poplar are in the same family, and I've read that they can often be used similarly.
    Best wishes,

  3. This is great and I'm looking forward to trying it!

    If there was an emergency, would you be able to get help quickly? I've been wondering ever since I found your fantastic blog.

  4. Thank you for stopping by. Yes, we could call the Troopers and they could get a transport --- probably quicker than folks outside towns on the road system get an ambulance. :)

  5. Thank you for stopping by. Yes, we could call the Troopers and they could get a transport --- probably quicker than folks outside towns on the road system get an ambulance. :)

  6. Hi Jenny,

    I found your site while researching the use of Balm of Gilead. I appreciate your instructions above and will use them in a new order I'm placing with a supplier. However, as I was so impressed by your post, I decided to check out your home page where I discovered you were looking for a husband. Not me- I'm a city girl myself, but there is another popular use for this incredible bud and resin... bringing love into one's life. Why not try? After all, Balm of Gilead has already brought me to you to deliver this message. Good luck and thanks for the Balm advice.

  7. Howdy Jenny!
    I also live in bush Alaska in the Northern Interior and I too make Balm of Gilead as well as a Spruce Pitch balm similar to what you describe which I mix together for a sort of super balm for skin injuries and irritants from infected cuts to insect bites. It has worked well for me on dogs, horses, pigs, goats and sheep also.
    Thanks for your blog!

  8. I'd never heard of gilead before this! It sounds like it's got some great uses though-thanks for sharing!

  9. Hi Jenny,
    I live in North Dakota so our springs are "similar". A friend of mine saw this being made on "Life Below Zero" and mentioned it. I just saw the same episode repeated and decided to look it up. I found your site. The idea that it can help with Arthritis is appealing to me, as my husband has that in his hands, and is taking a lot of meds. If this stuff works to reduce the meds he's taking, I will make it by the gallon.
    I enjoy canning and preserving veggies, jams, jerky and anything else that strikes my fancy.
    Thank you for the posts, I will share them with my friend and unfortunately we have to wait for next spring, but we will be at the Missouri River hunting the buds.

    Sharon R.

  10. I am new to this but I am eager to try it this winter! I will be following your posts, you are amazing and very knowledgeable and helpful. Thanks!d

  11. Made up my first batch this fall after a storm brought down many of the brittle Black Cottonwood branches. Collected a few cups of sticky buds off them.
    Covered with olive oil in a clear glass jar, sealed the top and set in a window for a month, then poured off the oil into small containers. Have tried it on cuts, rashes and eczema; works very well on all. Looking forward (not really) to my next bruise and sore joint so I can try it on that, too.
    Will try some vitamin E as a preservative and add some beeswax to some; I expect both and/or either to extend the shelf life.

  12. Hi, I want to used this on my bad knee to ease the pain... I don't want to do the knee replacement if I can find something that will help ease the pain. This sounds like it should be what the Doctor don't (want) order. Thanks for your info, Don

  13. Can you add scented oils, such as lavender or rose

  14. I was so excited the first time I heard about this balm! I can't wait to make and use for my granddaughter's diaper rash. Is there really that much difference in the buds if you pick them in the spring rather than fall? I'm so excited to try and do t know if I can wait that long!

  15. I was EXTREMELY pessimistic about this Balm. My Mom had seen the Kilchers' on the show Alaskan Frontier talk about the Balm of Gilead.
    My Mom, bless her heart, researched and finally made a good size batch of the balm. Again, my 59 yr old brain has seen and heard it all, so I was very skeptical.
    Mom sent me home with about a 1/2 pint of the balm and I started using it on a very destroyed shoulder/rotator cuff. I m refusing ANY surgery for it so some days are straight from hell. I used the balm one desperate afternoon. Within 30 minutes I had ZERO pain and it lasted for 12 hrs! I could have done a happy dance! I also suffer from D. D. D. and a deteriorating spine with a high degree of pain. I now use the balm on my lower back!
    I am sold, sold, sold on this balm!
    Thanking God for providing us with such an all round balm from our earth and nature.
    Convinced and happy!!

  16. Good morning we live in Kingsville Texas and I am very glad that I came across your blog while looking for The Balsam Poplar tree information I am very glad that I did come across your blog I learned a lot from you all although I am much much older than you and I do a lot of canning and I do mean a lot everything goes in the jar and I do look for remedies I remember those that my parents taught me and grandparents and I don't forget I do write things down but this one was amazing we do have a lot of aches and pains and sometimes pills can affect your kidneys and liver so I would rather have something to rub on my aching part of my body thank you so much I do hope to hear from you I don't have a Blog I have an email and I'm on Facebook

  17. Hi I know you live in Alaska and I live in Kingsville Texas now how could I go about getting some of these little buds for the cream we live in the city of Kingsville not very large but we do have stores and Nursery how can I get one of these trees and under what names if you can help I'd appreciate it thank you so much God bless

  18. Hi Jenny, I just discovered your website here. Thank you for all you do - super helpful. I live in Bellingham, WA and just harvested cottonwood buds to make Balm of Gilead. I was following a recipe I found from another website that said to use olive oil to infuse the resin into using heat. I had a meeting and when I checked on the concoction it was at a shy boil or aggressive simmer in my crockpot. Did I just ruin my batch? The recipe was quite clear to not let it boil but I can't find out what happens if it does come to a boil.
    Thank you,

  19. I see your finished jar on your page, it has a yellowish color. How come when I heated mine down it came out purpleish. About the color of chokejerry juice. What did I do wrong.


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