Note on the Early History of Canada Balsam.

Botanical name: 


In the short article devoted to the above drug in my "Pharmakognosie des Pflanzenreiches," Berlin, 1881, p. 70, I availed myself of the opportunity of completing its history, being kindly assisted in my investigation by my friend, Dr. Charles Rice, of New York, as well as by Mr. Wm. Sounders, of London, Ontario. I am indebted to the latter for the following information, as met with in Boucher's "Histoire de la Nouvelle-France" dated October 8th, 1663, "de la Ville des Trois-Rivieres en la Nouvelle-France." The author states: "Il y a des sapins comme en France: toute la différence que j'y trouve c'est qu'à la plus part il y vient des bubons à l'écorce qui sont remplis d'une certaine gomrne liquide qui est aromatique, dont on se sert pour les playes comme de baumes, An'a pas gueres moins de vertu." In English: There are pines or firs like those in France, except that they have little swellings in the bark, which are filled with a certain aromatic gum; this has been found as useful for wounds as the balsams. I need scarcely point out that similar swellings or resin ducts are also met with, in France, in the bark of Abies pectinata. See "Pharmacographia" 2d edit., p. 615.

This is a very plain information, which, however, does not refer to the earlier period of the French settlement in Canada. I therefore tried to consult some earlier accounts of the French explorations in that country. I had not before me that of Jacques Cartier, of Saint-Malo, who in 1535 and 1541 paid a visit to Canada, and reached the place of the present city of Montreal. Cartier's journey was very-short, and his accounts too meagre as to be expected to contain any allusion to the Balsam under notice. A thorough exploration of Canada and the foundation of the colony was due, from A. D. 1601 to 1635, to Samuel Champlain, a very active and intelligent officer of the French navy. His accounts being not at my disposal I referred to those of Marc Lescarbot, who visited Canada in 1606, and wrote in 1612 the "Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, contenant les navigations, découveries et habitations faites par les Francois és Indes Occidentales et Nouvelle-France," etc. There is a reprint of the original edition, published in 1866, at Paris, by Edwin Tross, 3 vols. In the third volume of this recent edition there occur the following statements:

Page 805: The author mentions excellent bricks to have been made of Canadian clay, the bricks being used for constructing chimneys and furnaces, the latter intended for melting the gum of pines ("fondre la gomme de sapin"). This may as well refer to the solid resin of Coniferae, yet at page 811 mention is made of the healing virtues of the resin, i. e., no doubt, the turpentine or balsam: ". . . Et sur le propos de guerison il me souvient d'avoir ouï dire au Sieur de Poutrin-court qu'il avoit fait essay de la vertu de la gomme des Sapins de Port Royal." And, still more explicit, page 820, Lescarbot says that the pines of Canada are very rich in gum, so that some of them die on account of its too large quantity. This gum he found to be as fine as that of Venice, and quite excellent in pharmacy. He furnished some churches in Paris with it, and was told that it made a very good incense, or, in his own words: "De bois exquis je n'y sache que le Cedre et le Sassafras; mats des Sapins et Pins, se pourra tirer un bon profit, parce qu'ils rendent de la gomme fort abondamment, et meurent bien sou vent de trop de graisse. Cette gomme est belle comme Térébenthine de Venise, et fort souveraine à la Pharmacie. J'en ay baillé à quelques églises de Paris pour incenser, laquelle a este trouvée fort bonne."

Sassafras, it may be observed, is mentioned here, apparently, as a timber; it is now in Canada, as far as I know, rather bushy than a strong tree, which would be able to yield any timber wood. As to the perfume of the turpentine of Canada, as displayed in the churches of Paris, we may mention that Monsieur Lescarbot was not a naturalist, but an advocate.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 53, 1881, was edited by John M. Maisch.