Balsemeros { 22 images } Created 11 Jul 2007

Balsam has long played an important role in traditional medicine. It was used extensively to treat wounds in the civil war and was an important part of Louis and Clark's medical kit. It has also long played an important role in the Catholic Church liturgy. The are many types of Balsam, but the most common is Balsam of Peru, which is actually only indigenous to El Salvador. Currently it's most important use is in perfume where it has fixing qualities as well as a fragrant smell.
Balsam has always been important in the economy of El Salvador and the way it is gathered and processed has remained the same for hundreds of years. The harvesting, which lasts throughout the dry season, remains a small family affair not unlike some of the smaller maple syrup operations in Vermont. And similarly the Balsameros tend to be older men carrying on a long standing tradition. Gathering Balsam requires incredible athleticism, skill, and a penchant for risk. Balsameros tend to be the poorest community members as they rely on a constantly fluctuating price for their product, a price that is controlled by middle men who have no interest in sustaining the Balsameros. Yet there is a great pride they take in their dangerous work. Work that every year fewer men know how to do.
Beyond the rapidly advancing age of most Balsameros, Balsam logging is a rapidly growing threat as people cut down the slow growing trees for a quick profit. Ironically it is the slow growing quality of Balsams that create a dense wood which in turn is coveted by the capital's bakeries because it burns slow. Yet because of the artisinal nature of the work and the fact that most Balsam groves are family owned, there is a lot of potential for the business to avoid the full scale industrialization that has occurred in so many timber industries.
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