Spoiler alert: We are discussing only pain balms, not wimpy stuff like lip balms!
I am an unrepentant balm sniffer. I cannot fall asleep unless I sniff some balm and apply some to my temples. The hint of a headache, and I reach for a balm. A niggling in the throat calls for a generous rub and copious sniffing.
My friends know a balm is the way to my heart. So I actually have friends gift me bottles and tins, from Kerala, from the Himalayas, from travels to Southeast Asia. It is a balm story which defines ‘hostess with the mostest’ for me. A friend in Delhi with whom I sometimes stay over provides toothbrushes for frequent guests—they stay in colour-coded caps in the guest bathroom. But she really set the standard when she stocked a jar of my favourite balm in the guestroom, so that I could feel that much more at home!
I think the word unguent was made for balms. I have never heard it used in any other context: ‘a soft greasy or viscous substance used as ointment or for lubrication’.
But what intrigues me a little is that the definition of balm is: ‘A fragrant cream or liquid used to heal or soothe the skin; Something that has a soothing or restorative effect.’
None of my balms soothe! They sting. In fact, the test of a balm is that your eyes should water when you put a spot of it on your temples.
As far as I can make out, balms come in two types—the brown unguents, and the off-white ones. There are good ones in both categories. But as far as Tiger Balm (THE balm) is concerned, the brown one beats the white one hollow.
We balm buffs are sensitive to packaging too. You have the glass bottles (the best). Then the plastic jars (OK). The metal flat disc-like boxes (good too). And now the roll-on type (I know that a liquid too can be a balm, but I am not so convinced).
Why a random rant on balms? No idea, except that the weather is not very balmy (Meaning: ‘characterized by pleasantly warm weather’– obviously not from the same root), thanks to which people all around are sneezing and coughing, which makes me want to stock on my balms!