early 13c., basme, aromatic substance made from resins and oils, from Old French basme (Modern French baume), from Latin balsamum, from Greek balsamon "balsam," from Hebrew basam "spice," related to Aramaic busma, Arabic basham "balsam, spice, perfume."
Spelling refashioned 15c.-16c. on Latin model. Sense of "healing or soothing influence" (1540s) is from aromatic preparations from balsam (see balsam). Biblical Balm of Gilead, however, began with Coverdale; the Hebrew word there is tsori, which was rendered in Septuagint and Vulgate as "resin" (Greek rhetine, Latin resina).