The name of the genus is in honour of the physician Juba II of Mauritania (1st century BC), who studied the medicinal use of the latex of various euphorbias present in North Africa. The epithet balsamifera, from the Latin balsamum (balsam) and fer (to carry), alludes to the medicinal properties of this species. Its vernacular name, tabaiba dulce, derives from the insular Tamazight ⵜⴰⴱⴰⵉⴱⴰ (ta-baba > tabayba > tabaiba).
It is a long-lived species of succulent shrub characteristic of the Tabaibal-Cardonal of Macaronesia. It is found on all the islands of the Canary Islands and the coast of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal (some authors differentiate the mainland plants as E. balsamifera var. rogeri or subsp. rogeri). It therefore prefers coastal areas (it normally occurs up to 300 m above sea level, although it has been found above 600 m in the south of the islands), tolerating winds very well, and occupying the basal floor of the Macaronesian xerophytic scrub (on slopes, badlands, scree and cliffs). It is a particularly abundant species on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote (where it is a natural symbol of the island). Its closest relative, Euphorbia balsamifera subsp. adenensis (Deflers) P.R.O.Bally, is found in the SW of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Tabaibal-cardonal is made up of other tabaibas, verodes, bejeques, cardoncillos, cornicales, guaidil, vinagrera, balo and other species, some introduced, such as the tunera and the pita (both of American origin). It is semi-caducous (in the dry season), and does not lose its leaves completely if conditions permit. Its leaves appear in rosettes, and it is highly branched, forming real impenetrable rounded bushes with a "fluffy" appearance. For this reason, it adapts well to windy conditions, taking on very different sizes depending on the conditions of the site: it can grow to over 4 m in height, but is normally between 0.5 and 1.5 metres.
There is considerable morphological variability in the leaf and hairiness of its fruits, with small greenish-yellow cup-shaped flowers (cyathia), which give rise to a capsule-shaped fruit with 3 parts, yellow or reddish in colour, which are distributed by balocoria.
In the traditional medicine of the islands, its latex was used to make a kind of gum that strengthens the gums, as well as other uses, such as serving as an antidote to the effects of the caustic latex of other euphorbias such as the cardon and the bitter tabaiba. There is also evidence of the use of its latex for caulking boats, and even the use of its porous wood for stoppers.