The Medicinal Uses of the “Balm of Gilead” – Holy Shaya
Among the most reputed ancient medical plants was the balm of Gilead known as the apharsemon, identified botanically as Commiphora gileadensis L. This plant originated in the Kingdom of Sheba on the south of the Arabian Peninsala. Apharsemon, known also as the Judean balsam, grew as an agricultural crop only around the Dead Sea Basin in antiquity and achieved fame by its highly reputed aroma and medical properties but has been extinct for many centuries. The resin of this crop was sold at a price twice its weight in gold, the highest price ever paid for an agricultural commodity. This ancient plant was investigated in this study for its anticancerous activity against cancer cell lines. The results obtained from ethanol-based extracts indicated that β-caryophyllene (trans-(1R,9S)-8-methylene-4,11,11-trimethylbicyclo(7.2.0)undec-4-ene) is a key component in the essential oil extracted from the balm of Gilead. β-Caryophyllene can be found in a variety of food and beverage products. In the current paper, we report that Commiphora gileadensis stem and leaf extracts as well as its essential oil have an anti-proliferative proapoptotic effect against tumor cells and not against normal cells. β-caryophyllene caused a potent induction of apoptosis accompanied by DNA ladder and caspase-3 catalytic activity in tumor cell lines. In summary, we showed that C. gileadensis plant contain an apoptosis inducer that acts, in a selective manner, against tumor cell lines and not against normal cells.
Source: Revival of the extinct balm of Gilead in Israel: studying its anti-cancer activity  Yehoshua, S. B.; Rachmilevitch, S.; Amiel, E.; Ofir, R.; et al.
The chemical composition and biological evaluation of the essential oil of Commiphora opobalsamum was evaluated using essential oil samples from stored aerial parts, fresh aerial parts, and fresh ﬂowering tops, obtained by hydrodistillation.
Source: Abbas, F.A., S.M. Al-Massarany, S. Khan, T.A. Al-Howiriny, J.S. Mossa, and E.A. Abourashed 2007. Phytochemical and biological studies on Saudi Commiphora opobalsamum L. Natural Prod. Res. 21(5):383–391.
The essential oil from the fresh aerial parts exhibited antimicrobial activity against Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Candida glabrata, C. krusei, Cryptococcus neoformans, and Mycobacterium intracellulare (Al-Massarany et al. 2007). Following a photochemical investigation of the aerial part of C. opobalsamum growing in Saudi Arabia, six compounds were isolated and identiﬁed: friedelin, canophyllal, oleanonic acid, mearnsetin, quercetin, and syringic acid. Extracts and isolated compounds were preliminarily assayed in vitro for antimicrobial, antimalarial, antitumor, anti-inﬂammatory, antioxidant, and estrogenic activity. The ethyl acetate extract was moderately active against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Plasmodium falciparum while the petroleum ether and chloroform extracts inhibited COX-2 at 5 and 10 mgmL–1, respectively. Mearnsetin and quercetin exhibited antioxidant activity, and syringic acid showed moderate antimalarial, anticandidal, and antimycobacterial activity.
The antiproliferative effect of resinous exudates of Commiphora opo-balsamum was examined on human prostate cancer cells, and secondary metabolites were isolated (Shen et al. 2007): cycloartane-24-en-1a,2a,3b-triol, octadecane-1,2S,3S,4R-tetrol, 1-O-a-L-rhamnopyranoside, eudes-mane-1b,5a,11-triol, and guaia-6a,7a-epoxy-4a,10a-diol along with six known sesquiterpenoids: guaianediol, myrrhone, dihydropyrocurzere-none, 2-methoxy-5-acetoxy-furanogermacr-1(10)-en-6-one, (1(10)E,2R, 4R)-2-methoxy-8,12-epoxygermacra-1(10),7,11-trien-6-one, and curzer-enone. Similar anticancer activity against lung and blood cancer cell lines was found by studying extract from the resin of C. gileadensis opobalsa-mum. The activity was detected by testing for apoptotic activities as well (Oﬁr et. al 2010).
Extracts of C. opobalsamum exhibited anti-inﬂammatory, analgesic, and diuretic activities in rats and mice and hepatoprotective ability and ulcer protective effects (Al-Howiriny et al. 2004; 2005). The hypotensive effect of aqueous extract from the branches of C. opobalsamum on blood pressure and heart rate in rats is due to the activation of muscarinic cholinergic receptors (Abdul-Ghani 1997). However, it is surprising that the authors found plants of Commiphora opobalsamum growing wild in the mountains of Ramallah, Palestine, since, according to past data, these plants do not grow at such relatively high altitudes in climates different from that of the Dead Sea Basin. Possibly that article is discussing another species.
Three new sesquiterpenoids were isolated from the exudates of Commiphora opobalsamum (Shen et al. 2008a): 2a-methoxy-6-oxoger-macra-1(10),7(11)-dien-8,12-olide, 5b-10a-hydroxy-2a-methoxy-6-oxo-guaia-7(11),8-dien-8,12-olide, and furanocadina-1(10),6,8-triene-4-ol; as were six known compounds: (1E)-3-methoxy-8,12-epoxygermacra-1,7,10,11-tetraen-6-one, rel-(1S,2S)-epoxy-(4R)-furanogermacr-10(15)-en-6-one, 6a,7a-epoxy-1b-guai-10(14)-en-4a-ol, (1R,4S,5R)-guaia-6,10 (14)-diene, cerotic acid, and b-sitosterol. Isolation and identiﬁcation of the resinous exudates of C. opobalsamum revealed new cycloartane-type triterpenoids: cycloartan-24-ene-1a,2a,3a-triol, 3b-acetoxycycloartan-24-ene-1a,2a-diol, 1a-acetoxycycloartan-24-ene-2a,3b-diol, 3b-isova-leroyloxycycloartan-24-ene-1a,2a-diol, cycloartan-24-ene-1a,3b-diol, cycloartan-23E-ene-1a,2a,3b,25-tetrol, 24R,25-epoxycycloartane-1a,2a, 3b-triol, and 24S,25-epoxycycloartane-1a,2a,3b-triol (Shen et al. 2008a).
The hepatoprotective activity of an ethanolic extract of Commiphora opobalsamum (“Balessan”) was investigated in rats by inducing hepatotoxicity with carbon tetrachloride:liquid paraffin (1:1). This extract has been shown to possess significant protective effect by lowering serum transaminase levels (serum glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase and serum glutamate pyruvate transaminase), alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin. Pretreatment with an extract of Balessan prevented the prolongation of the barbiturate sleeping time associated with carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in mice. On the other hand, CCl4-induced low-level nonprotein sulfhydryl concentration in the liver was replenished by the Balessan extract. These data suggest that the plant C. opobalsamum may act as an antioxidant agent and may have a hepatoprotective effect.
Source: Alhowiriny, Tawfeq & Al-Sohaibani, M & Al-Said, M & Al-Yahya, M & El-Tahir, K & Rafatullah, Syed. (2004). Hepatoprotective properties of Commiphora opobalsamum (“Balessan”), a traditional medicinal plant of Saudi Arabia. Drugs under experimental and clinical research. 30. 213-20. 10.1055/s-0034-1382426.