Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter XII, pp. 101-106.

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Of Balsamum.

Balsamum being more famous by Report, then knowne, is the juice of a certaine Tree growing in Iury, in the valley of Iericho, like unto a Vine: these Plants (except counterfeit) are not now any where to be found; they say the Turke hath some few in Ægypt, from which every yeare hee receiveth onely some few drops of the Liquor; else are they to be found in no part of the World. For when the Turkes, enemies of all goodnesse and civilitie, destroyed all the Vineyards in and about Iericho, withall, they cut downe these Plants; for since, they were never found in that Countrie, and therefore no true Balsame is brought into Europe: if happily some there be, it is not worth the speaking of. Yet I have heard some affirme, there have been some of these Balsame Plants found in the West Indies, but I much doubt of that: it may be some other Tree, affording a medicinable Liquor (as there are many) like unto the other. For this aforenamed true Balsamum, grew no where but in Iury, in the valley of Iericho, in two large Gardens which belonged onely unto the King: as it was like a Vine, so it was planted like unto our Vines, by setting the slippings into the Earth: but whereas the Vine had props to guide it, the Balsamum had none. Within three yeares after the planting, it brought forth the fruit; the height of it, being growne, was not fully two Cubits: among all other unguents, for goodnesse, Balsamum hath the preheminence, because also it excels all other for sweetnesse of smell; the juice or liquor, is called Opobalsamum.

— Hirsuto spirant Opobalsamo collo; saith Iuvenal.

Xylobalsamum is the Wood of the body, or of the branch, which the Shops sometimes substituted for the liquor; the chiefe vertue is attributed to the Juice; the next, to the Seed; the third, to the Barke; the least of all, to the Wood. The triall of true Balsame, is to put it into Milke, which it will presently turne to a curd; and if any drop chanceth to fall upon a Garment, it will leave no spot or staine behind. Dioscorides saith, When the Liquor was to be drawne forth, the body was cut with small clawes of iron.1 Which Claudian also affirmeth in Epithal: Palladii;2

Gemmatis alii per totum Balsama tectum
Effudêre cadis, duro quæ saucius ungue
Niliacus pingui desudat vulnere cortex.

Plinie, Solinus and Tacitus, rather affirme the veines of the Tree to be opened with Glasse, a sharpe Stone, or with Knives of Bone; averring, the nature of the Tree cannot abide iron, but presently dieth, if you cut it never so small a depth.

Strabo also affirmeth this Plant to have beene peculiar to the Land of Iury onely:3 it hath the name, Balsamum, from the Arabian word, Balsamin; that is, The Lord, or Prince of Oyles. And wee find it in Exodus,4 to be Aromatum præstantißimum; by this, the Iews gained to themselves great riches; as Iustine, the Epitomizer of Trogus affirmeth.5 The place where it grew, was but two hundred acres of ground, which was with Mountains, like the wals of a Castle, enclosed round; they sweat out their Balsame but at one certaine time of the yeare: and one thing is to be admired of the place where these Trees grow, when all the Country round about (by reason of the nearnesse of the Sunne) was extremely hot, in this Vale onely, the Ayre was ever temperate and refreshing, with a shady coolnesse.


1. σιδἠρους ὄνυξι. Ferreia ungibus. Dioscor. lib. 1. c. 18.

2. [Claudian Claudian, Epithalamium 121-123]

3. [It depends on exactly what Peacham means by "Jewry" and how far it extends. Strabo XVI.2.4 says that balsam juice is extracted only in the plain of Jericho and that the plant does not grow in many places XVII.1.15, but he says as well that balsam grows in the country of the Sabaeans XVI.4.19, i.e., in Arabia, as well as in Galilee, XVI.2.16.]

4. Exod. 30. 23.

5. Lib. 36. de Opobalsmo.

This page is by James Eason.