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Myroxylon balsamum Balsam of Tolu Fabaceae
A tall tree native to northern South America, is found predominantly in Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and some areas of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. A closely related species called balsam of Peru (M. pereirae) is native to Central America farther north. Balsam of Peru was named such because it was originally assembled and shipped to Europe from the ports of Callao and Lima, Peru, but the species is not indigenous to Peru.
Both trees grow up to 35 meters in height and produce white flowers and winged seed pods. Balsam trees are tapped like rubber trees to collect their resin like gums that are used commercially and sold as "balsam." A tree must be at least 20 years old before it can be tapped for its gum, and one tree produces only about 3 kg of gum annually. Today, El Salvador is the main exporter of balsam of Peru (exporting approximately 50 metric tons annually), and Colombia and Venezuela are the main producers of balsam of tolu. The gum has a vanilla-like smell and taste and is used as a food additive and flavoring in cough syrups, soft drinks, confectioneries, and chewing gums.
Country of Origin: South America
Extraction Method: Steam distilled
Parts Used: The oil is steam distilled from the wood
The indigenous tribes of Mexico and Central America use the leaves and fruit of M. pereirae for asthma, colds and flu, rheumatism, and external wounds. The Choco Indians use the powdered bark as an underarm deodorant. The sap of M. balsamum has documented indigenous uses for colds and lung ailments, and Amazon rainforest tribes have employed it for abscesses, asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, headache, rheumatism, sores, sprains, tuberculosis, venereal diseases, and wounds.
It is used as an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic agent in cases of scabies, ringworm, lice, superficial ulcerations, wounds, bedsores, diaper rash, and chilblains.
Balsam of Peru has been in the U.S. Pharmacopeia since 1820, with documented uses for bronchitis, laryngitis, dysmenorrhea, diarrhea, dysentery, and leucorrhea. Today, it is used extensively in topical preparations for the treatment of wounds, ulcers, and scabies. It can be found in hair tonics, antidandruff preparations, and feminine hygiene sprays and as a natural fragrance in soaps, detergents, creams, lotions, and perfumes.
Balsam contains 50% to 64% volatile oil and 20% to 28% resin. The volatile oil contains benzoic and cinnamic acid esters. The benzoic and cinnamic acids are believed to be the main active constituents of the resin. The oil contains about 60% cinnamein, a volatile oil that is extracted by steam distillation and used commercially in the perfume, cosmetic, and soap industries.
Many chemicals are found in balsam of Peru: alpha-bourbonene, alpha-cadinene, alpha-calacorene, alpha-copaene, alpha-curcumene, alpha-muurolene, alpha-pinene, benzaldehyde, benzoic, benzoic-acids, benzyl-alcohol, benzyl-benzoate, benzyl-cinnamate benzyl-ferulate, benzyl-isoferulate, beta-bourbonene, beta-elemene, cadalene, calamenene, caryophyllene, cinnamaldehyde, cinnamein, cinnamic-acids, cinnamyl-benzoate, cinnamyl-cinnamate, cis-ocimene, coumarin, d-cadinene, dammaradienone, delta-cadinene, dihydromandelic-acid, eugenol, farnesol, ferulic-acid, gamma-muurolene, hydroxyhopanone, l-cadinol, methyl-cinnamate, nerolidol, oleanolic-acid, p-cymene, peruresinotannol, peruviol, resin, styrene, sumaresinolic-acid, tannin, toluresinotannol-cinnamate, vanillin, and wax.