Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Israel Environment & Nature: Storax

STORAX (Gr. στύραξ), a sap with medicinal properties.

According to Pliny (Natural History 12:81) and Dioscorides (De materia medica 1:79) it was extracted from trees growing wild in Syria and the vicinity. Some identify it with the "balm" enumerated among the "choice fruits of the land" that Jacob sent to Egypt (Gen. 43:11), and among the wares brought "from Judah and the land of Israel" (Ezek. 27:17) to Tyre. Balm of Gilead is mentioned (Gen. 37:25; Jer. 8:22, 46:11), and is praised by Jeremiah as a remedy for wounds (46:11; 51:8). Linnaeus, who determined the scientific names of plants, thought that storax was extracted from the tree called in modern Hebrew livneh refu'i which he termed Styrax officinalis. However in the light of tests made in Israel it is very doubtful if a sap with medicinal or aromatic qualities can be extracted from this tree. The storax of the ancients was probably extracted from a different tree, seemingly from the Liquidambar orientalis which grows wild in northern Syria and may even have been grown in Israel; from it is extracted an aromatic sap with healing qualities called storax liquidis. This may possibly be the biblical balm, though other sources led to the conclusion that ẓori ("balm"), nataf, and ketaf are synonyms for *balsam.

The Styrax officinalis is widespread in the forests of Israel, and Hosea (4:13) mentions "alon, livneh, and elah" ( *oaks , livneh, and *terebinths ) among the shady trees used as sites for idol worship. The reference seems to be to the tree called in Arabic avḥar and also livnah or luvnah, a name connected with the silvery white color of the underside of its leaves (for the livneh of Gen. 30:37 see *Poplar ). The flowers of this tree are sweet smelling and similar in shape to citrus blossom. The poisonous fruit is used for trapping fish. Arabs do not fell this tree because of the legend that "demons recline beneath it."

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.