- Benzoin Gum
- Benzoin Tree
The plant known as the benzoin gum is a shrub like deciduous tree. The leaves of the benzoin gum are pointed and oval in shape and the herb also gives out clusters of fragrant and bell shaped white flowers when it blooms in the spring.
Benzoin gum has traditionally been used in India and other Asian countries. Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese explorer was presented with a gift of benzoin, on his voyage in 1497-1498 around the Cape of Good Hope to India; the Portuguese navigator was presented this substance by the Indians who highly valued this substance.
The benzoin gum has been used in incense burnt in Indian Temples for its appealing vanilla like aroma. The benzoin gum was also traditional used in Indian and other Asian countries to gain relief from shingles, to treat ringworm, and in treating a number of other skin problems. Benzoin gum was also used in many other parts of southern Asia, to alleviate sores on the feet and was a traditional remedy applied to heal the wounds following a circumcision.
The plant is a member of the storax family of plants. The S. benzoin similar to many related species is a fast growing tree that can reach heights ranging from about fifteen feet to an incredible one hundred fifteen feet in some cases.
The tree bears fragrant clusters of silky white blossoms which are followed by the production of round, two inch fruits that contain one or two round seeds inside them. The valuable aromatic resin is found in the bark of the tree that is overlaid with a silky whitish down – the resin is extracted from the bark and used in many herbal applications.
The benzoin trees are fairly easy to cultivate in warm and tropical climates of the Far East according to commercial growers of the plant. The method of cultivation of this herb differs from region to region and in some regions of the world, the seedlings are planted just before a crop of upland rice so that as the grain grows and advances it can give some shade to the young growing trees.
The resin is extracted from trees that are six or seven years old. Once such trees have been identified, workers slash the trees using a hatchet or make deep triangular holes into the bark using a knife, the resin is a yellowish white to reddish brown fluid which begins to flow out of these cuts and immediately hardens into teardrop shaped lumps on the bark – these are collected and used in the preparation of many herbal remedies.
Benzoin trees give the greatest flow of resin during the first three years of tapping, and this flow can lasts another three years. Most benzoin trees will die before reaching seventeen years of age.
The bitter taste of the benzoin is not very pleasant to the taste, and it is rarely given for as an internal medication. However, the excellent expectorant properties of the benzoin makes it a good herbal remedy, the resin helps loosen phlegm accumulated in the mucous membranes lining the respiratory passages, and the resin is often prescribed for treating acute obstructive laryngitis – better known as croup in young children.
Benzoin resin is given to croup affected children as a stem inhalant remedy; affected children can inhale the vapors from a bowl of boiled water in which a teaspoon of benzoin tincture is mixed. Some other useful remedies of the benzoin include an antiseptic and astringent effect; it is effective in healing small cuts and is used for minor external disorders.
Many skin care products include the resin, and the resin is one of the most common herbal ingredients in such products. The benzoin added to the topical remedy helps in the healing of chapped or blistered skin affecting a person.
The cosmetic industry also utilizes the benzoin in many products, the excellent preservative qualities of the herb ensures that it is always in great demand by the cosmetic industry where the resin is used as a fixative in the manufacture of all kinds of soaps, in various perfumes, and in creams and lotions.
Benzoin is also used in the food industry as a flavoring agent, where small amounts are added to many processed foods, and these products range from different kinds of beverages to all kinds of packaged baked goods.
The remedies made from the benzoin is sold in the market and comes in several different grades, this grading system is based on the amount of milky white resinous tears contained in the mass of the benzoin gum. The most valuable is a grade called the Siam gum, this benzoin tends to contain lesser foreign impurities than the Sumatra variety, the grades that are considered inferior grades sometimes contain a lot of bark but little resin and are not as valuable.
The product known as Siam benzoin is sold in the form of square blocks that contain opaque and milky tears; these masses are often an inch or two in length and are loosely bound to each other within the blocks.
However, tears tend to be much smaller in size, and the mass tends to be much more compact and uniform, the tears are normally embedded in an amber colored or brown, resiniform material within the block.
The block specimens which contain these translucent resinous matter and the very small tears are said to resemble Scotch granite in appearance. Internally, the tears show a semi-translucent and lamellated structure which is unique in appearance. When aged, the opaque tears can become discolored and translucent.
Mastication can soften the otherwise brittle resin, and the resin possesses a very pleasant fragrance which resembles the fragrance of vanilla bean. Benzoic acid is the synthetic product obtained when the benzoin gum is subjected to heat treatment.
The other type of Asian benzoin called the Sumatra benzoin is also sold in rectangular blocks. These usually have the milky tears embedded in a grayish brown resinous mass that also contains a lot of foreign particles. Compared to the Siam benzoin, the odor of the Sumatran benzoin is not strong and is not as pleasant to smell.
There is still another variety of the Sumatra benzoin, called the Penang benzoin, or the Storax smelling benzoin, this product possesses a much more agreeable fragrance compared to the Siam benzoin, comparing favorably with storax. The Penang benzoin frequently has large tears, which are all agglutinated together in a grayish resinous mass.
The addition of water to the tincture made from the various benzoins is the best way to compare the fragrance in the different kinds of benzoin found in the market. A reddish tincture is made from the best variety – the Siam, while the tinctures made from the other grades tend to have a yellow brown or brown coloration.
The feel of the benzoin is firm and brittle; it is easy to pulverize and has an agreeable, balsamic odor when it is rubbed by the hand. Benzoin also has a sweetish, balsamic and mildly acrid flavor. Pure benzoin is completely soluble in alcohol or ether. Benzoin on heating, gives off a discharge of dense and irritating, white colored smoke, this smoke consists of benzoic acid and fragrant empyreumatic oil.
When benzoin is pulverized by hand, it can irritate the membranes lining the nostrils of the person, bringing on sternutation in the person. When a little water is mixed into the alcoholic solution made using benzoin, it precipitates out and forms a white liquid – this white liquid was formerly used as a cosmetic and sold under the name of “virgin’s milk”.
The benzoin gum has a specific gravity of approximately 1.068 and is used in a wide range of applications as well as in the manufacture of herbal medications.
The primary use of the benzoin gum in herbal remedies is connected to the potent antiseptic and astringent action it possesses. Remedies made from the benzoin gum can be used for the treatment of external wounds and in the treatment of ulcers – the remedy is especially beneficial for tightening and disinfecting affected tissues on the body.
The herbal remedy called Friar’s Balsam, which is an antiseptic and expectorant steam inhalation used in treating sore throats, problems such as head and chest colds, asthma, and bronchitis also has benzoin gum as one of the ingredients.
The physical effects induced in the human body by the benzoin gum are similar to the effects induced by benzoic acid. This is not surprising as the benzoic acid is one of the principal constituents of benzoin gum, the benzoin acid is modified by the resin and the essential oils present in the herb. Benzoin gum in the body is eliminated from the body mainly through the mucous membranes.
The mucous tissues in the body are stimulated by benzoin and the remedy is normally employed to induce an expectorant action in case of chronic diseases affecting the air passages of the respiratory system. The benzoin gum remedies are also said to stimulate the functioning of the sexual organs.
The benzoin gum is an additive in the synthesis of elixir of paregoric, it is also used as a base in the production of Turlington’s balsam and many other kinds of balsams – these remedies all exert a salutary effect and aid in the healing of wounds on the body. Benzoin gum tincture is also used as a coating over a very well known adhesive preparation called Court Plaster.
Benzoin remedies also include its use in steam inhalation, the fumes or the vapor of the benzoin gum inhaled into the lungs, is one of the recommended treatments in case of chronic pulmonary catarrhs, and the same treatment is also one of the suggested remedies in the treatment of chronic laryngeal inflammations.
Benzoin gum tincture has a protective and stimulating effect, and is used in the early stage of coryza. It is also used as a lotion in dressing for fresh wounds and skin problems. The benzoin gum is the primary base for the synthesis of benzoic acid.
Benzoic acid is used as a flavoring to improve the taste and odor of other medications, it also finds extensive use in perfumery and the cosmetic industry. The volume of benzoic acid used in many of these preparations, may be about 10 to 40 grains, though higher amounts are also used in some products.
Habitat and cultivation
The benzoin tree is a native species of Southeast Asian forests. The benzoin tree grows only in the tropical rainforests straddling much of southern Asia. The tree is cultivated in many forest plantations for its valuable gum. This precious resin flows out from the incisions cut into the bark of seven year old trees; the resin is collected and processed on year round.
The resin obtained from the benzoin tree belongs to a class of chemical substances called balsam resins; these are a group of resinous substances commonly found in plants. The composition of benzoin gum includes some volatile oil and seventy five per cent of it is made up of amorphous resins, while benzoic acid itself forms eighteen per cent of the total.
Benzoic acid is found in lesser quantities in the white tears, compared to the resiniform matter in which the white tears is embedded – this matrix resin contains much more benzoic acid. When benzoin gum is subjected to dry distillation, one of the empyreumatic products is a very fragrant and oily substance, a compound called styrol.
Dry distillation of different types of benzoin also yields other kinds of compounds, the compound called cinnamic acid is found on distilling Siam and Penang benzoin gums. In some benzoin gums, there is a total absence of benzoic acid and only cinnamic acid can be found.
In one sample of Sumatra benzoin, only cinnamic acid was found, while in the amygdaloid Penang and Siam benzoin varieties, benzoic acid was the only acid present. There are at least four resins of benzoin, and all of these are soluble in alcohol or caustic potash, however, each behaves in a different way with other known solvents – ether in particular.
During one distillation of Siam benzoin in 1878, the compound vanillin, which is a chemical substance found mainly in vanilla, was obtained as a byproduct.
In this event, benzoin was first treated using some caustic lime, then the benzoic acid was precipitated out using chlorhydric acid, and supernatant liquid was further agitated using ether and then subjected to evaporated, the process resulted in a mixture of vanillin and benzoic acid – this is the only known case where vanillin was obtained from benzoin resin.
This herbal skin care preparation may possibly be particularly revitalizing provided it is stored in a refrigerator and applied to the skin while it is still cold. A preservative available with the druggists called tincture of benzoin is meant solely for topical use and it should never be taken internally.
The ingredients needed to prepare this herbal skin care product include the following;
- 1/2 cup of dehydrated sage
- 4 to 5 drops tincture of benzoin
- 1/2 cup of vodka
To prepare this herbal skin care product at home, you need to place half of the required sage into a jar and pour the vodka on top of it. Seal the jar firmly and allow the sage to suffuse in the vodka for about a week and, subsequently, filter the liquid.
While you preserve the liquid, do away with the sage after you have squeezed out all the liquid from it. Now, place the remaining sage in the jar, pour the liquid over it and allow it to steep for about one more week. By this time, the liquid will acquire a potent herbal scent and if you wish to make it more potent, continue with the process using another one-fourth cup of sage.
Next, you filter the sage astringent into a sanitized bottle with the help of a fine filter like a coffee filter. Finally, add the tincture of benzoin to the astringent, seal the bottle and shake the mixture thoroughly.
It may be noted here that you are able to prepare a better astringent provided you use fresh sage instead of the dried herb. You should use approximately half a cup of the astringent, slackly packed, every time you fill the jar.
A milder sage astringent: To prepare a diluted sage astringent, add distilled water to the preparation. Alternately, you may also use a lesser astringent herb like chamomile instead of sage.
Additionally stimulating astringent: In order to prepare an astringent that is more invigorating, you may add anything between two and four tablespoonful of the herb called witch hazel. Alternately, you may use a more potently astringent herb like yarrow.