1570s, "aromatic resin used for healing wounds and soothing pains," from Latin balsamum "gum of the balsam tree," ultimately from Semitic (see balm). There is an isolated Old English use from c. 1000, and Middle English used balsamum. Originally in reference to Balm of Gilead, later extended to various other aromatic preparations from trees and shrubs. As a type of flowering plant of the Impatiens family, it is attested from 1741.
updated on March 29, 2017