Tolu balsam

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Balsam of Tolu Balsamum tolutanum1.JPG
Balsam of Tolu

Tolu balsam [1] or balsam of Tolu [2] is a balsam that originates from South America (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela). It is similar to (and frequently confounded with) the balsam of Peru.


It is tapped from the living trunks of Myroxylon balsamum var. balsamum. [1] The fresh balsam of Tolu is a brownish, sticky, semifluid mass. It gradually becomes a brittle solid, but softens again when it is warm. [2] The balsam contains a fairly large amount of benzyl and cinnamyl esters of benzoic and cinnamic acid (benzyl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate). [3]


Balsam of Tolu is obtained by cutting a V-shaped wound on the trunk of Myroxylon balsamum var. balsamum and fixing a calabash there to catch the exuded resin. [2]


The resin is still used in certain cough syrup formulas. However its main use in the modern era is in perfumery, where it is valued for its warm, mellow yet somewhat spicy scent.

It is also used as a natural remedy for skin rashes. It is a well known cause of contact dermatitis, a form of skin allergy.

Tolu has begun to be used in the niche perfume industry, notably by Ormonde Jayne Perfumery, which launched its oriental perfume Tolu in 2002, and also in 2010 by Esteban, which launched Baume Tolu.


In 1841, Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville isolated toluene by the dry distillation of tolu balsam. [4] The resin is used in traditional medicine by the people of Central America and South America. [5] It got its name because it was shipped to Europe from Tolú, Colombia. [2] In 1753 Linnaeus described the type specimen of Toluifera balsamum (the synonym of Myroxylon balsamum) using a specimen collected in the province of Cartagena, probably a town called Tolú, which at the time was located in the province of Cartagena, and named it Toluifera balsamum in relation to the place of collection. [6] The name of the important hydrocarbon solvent toluene is derived from Tolu balsam.

Related Research Articles

Toluene, also known as toluol, is a substituted aromatic hydrocarbon. It is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid with the smell associated with paint thinners. It is a mono-substituted benzene derivative, consisting of a methyl group (CH3) attached to a phenyl group. As such, its systematic IUPAC name is methylbenzene. Toluene is predominantly used as an industrial feedstock and a solvent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Resin</span> Solid or highly viscous substance

In polymer chemistry and materials science, a resin is a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin that is typically convertible into polymers. Resins are usually mixtures of organic compounds. This article focuses on naturally occurring resins.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Perfume</span> Mixture used to produce a pleasant smell

Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds (fragrances), fixatives and solvents, usually in liquid form, used to give the human body, animals, food, objects, and living-spaces an agreeable scent. Perfumes can be defined as substances that emit and diffuse a pleasant and fragrant odor. They consist of manmade mixtures of aromatic chemicals and essential oils. The 1939 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry, Leopold Ružička stated in 1945 that "right from the earliest days of scientific chemistry up to the present time, perfumes have substantially contributed to the development of organic chemistry as regards methods, systematic classification, and theory."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balsam</span> Index of plants with the same common name

Balsam is the resinous exudate which forms on certain kinds of trees and shrubs. Balsam owes its name to the biblical Balm of Gilead.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benzyl alcohol</span> Aromatic alcohol

Benzyl alcohol (also known as α-Cresol) is an aromatic alcohol with the formula C6H5CH2OH. The benzyl group is often abbreviated "Bn" (not to be confused with "Bz" which is used for benzoyl), thus benzyl alcohol is denoted as BnOH. Benzyl alcohol is a colorless liquid with a mild pleasant aromatic odor. It is a useful solvent due to its polarity, low toxicity, and low vapor pressure. Benzyl alcohol has moderate solubility in water (4 g/100 mL) and is miscible in alcohols and diethyl ether. The anion produced by deprotonation of the alcohol group is known as benzylate or benzyloxide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benzoin (resin)</span> Balsamic resin from trees in genus Styrax

Benzoin or benjamin is a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of several species of trees in the genus Styrax. It is used in perfumes and some kinds of incense and as a flavoring and medicine. It is distinct from the chemical compound benzoin, which is ultimately derived chemically from benzoin resin; the resin, however, does not contain this compound.

Oleoresins are semi-solid extracts composed of resin and essential or fatty oil, obtained by evaporation of the solvents used for their production. The oleoresin of conifers is known as crude turpentine or gum turpentine, which consists of oil of turpentine and rosin.

A fixative is used to equalize the vapor pressures, and thus the volatilities, of the raw materials in a perfume oil, as well as to increase the tenacity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Storax balsam</span>

Storax, often commercially sold as styrax, is a natural resin isolated from the wounded bark of Liquidambar orientalis Mill. and Liquidambar styraciflua L. (Hamamelidaceae). It is distinct from benzoin, a similar resin obtained from the Styracaceae plant family.

<i>Myroxylon</i> Genus of legumes

Myroxylon is a genus of Fabaceae native to Latin America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benzyl benzoate</span> Chemical compound

Benzyl benzoate is an organic compound which is used as a medication and insect repellent. As a medication it is used to treat scabies and lice. For scabies either permethrin or malathion is typically preferred. It is applied to the skin as a lotion. Typically two to three applications are needed. It is also present in Balsam of Peru, Tolu balsam, and in a number of flowers.

Benzyl chloride, or α-chlorotoluene, is an organic compound with the formula C6H5CH2Cl. This colorless liquid is a reactive organochlorine compound that is a widely used chemical building block.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Copaiba</span> Resin and essential oil from South American Copaifera trees

Copaiba is a stimulant oleoresin obtained from the trunk of several pinnate-leaved South American leguminous trees. The thick, transparent exudate varies in color from light gold to dark brown, depending on the ratio of resin to essential oil. Copaiba is used in making varnishes and lacquers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balsam of Peru</span> Type of tree balsam

Balsam of Peru or Peru balsam, also known and marketed by many other names, is a balsam derived from a tree known as Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae; it is found in El Salvador, where it is an endemic species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stacte</span> Unknown biblical substance used in incense

Stacte and nataph are names used for one component of the Solomon's Temple incense, the Ketoret, specified in the Book of Exodus. Variously translated to the Greek term or to an unspecified "gum resin" or similar, it was to be mixed in equal parts with onycha, galbanum and mixed with pure frankincense and they were to "beat some of it very small" for burning on the altar of the tabernacle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benzyl cinnamate</span> Chemical compound

Benzyl cinnamate is the chemical compound which is the ester derived from cinnamic acid and benzyl alcohol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Opopanax (perfumery)</span>

Opopanax is the commercial name of bisabol or bissabol, the fragrant oleo-gum-resin of Commiphora guidottii. It has been a major export article from Somalia since ancient times, and is called hebbakhade, habaghadi or habak hadi in Somali. It is an important ingredient in perfumery and therefore known as scented myrrh, sweet myrrh, perfumed myrrh or perfumed bdellium.

Resinoids are extracts of resinous plant exudates.

<i>Myroxylon balsamum</i> Species of legume

Myroxylon balsamum, Santos mahogany, is a species of tree in the family Fabaceae. It is native to tropical forests from Southern Mexico through the Amazon regions of Peru and Brazil at elevations of 200–690 metres (660–2,260 ft). Plants are found growing in well drained soil in evergreen humid forest.


  1. 1 2 "Assessment report on Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. pereirae (Royle) Harms, balsamum" (PDF). European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). 2016-05-31. Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Flückiger, Friedrich August; Hanbury, Daniel (1874). Pharmacographia: A History of the Principal Drugs of Vegetable Origin, Met with in Great Britain and British India. London: Macmillan and Co. pp. 177–184.
  3. Karl-Georg Fahlbusch; et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 116
  4. Jörg Fabri; et al. (2007), "Toluene", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 4
  5. James A. Duke (2009), "Tolu Balsam Tree", Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Plants of Latin America, CRC Press, pp. 474–475
  6. Bagnatori Sartori, Ângela Lúcia; Lewis, Gwilym P.; Mansano, Vidal de Freitas; Tozzi, Ana Maria Goulart de Azevedo (6 November 2015). "A revision of the genus Myroxylon (Leguminosae: Papilionoideae)". Kew Bulletin. 70 (4): 48. doi:10.1007/s12225-015-9604-7. S2CID   26434950.