Monday, June 22, 2009

Herbs: Balsam of Tolu

Balsam of Tolu

scientific name: Myroxylon balsamum
other common names: Balsam of Peru, balsam de Peru, balsamo de Peru

growing areas: Native to southern Mexico and Panama; also cultivated in Central and South America, West Africa, and Ceylon

physical description: It is a tall tree that can grow to a height of up to 100 feet. Its bark, when cut, exudes an aromatic brown resin. The tree's flowers are fragrant and white and its leaves are evergreen.

traditional uses: The tree is one of a number of botanicals that were discovered by European colonists in Latin America to be useful in commerce. Legend has it that the tree was so named because the balsam was originally shipped to Spain from Callao in Peru. The balsam was so prized as incense, according to one historian, that a papal edict prohibited destruction of the tree. The balsam is obtained by injury to the tree by scoring part of the bark, which drops off and exposes the underlying wood, which then exudes the balsam. The purified balsam is then solidified. Over the years, balsam and essential oils derived from it have been used to flavor foods, soft drinks, and chewing gum.

Balsam has been used in Guatemala as a treatment for itching skin, and it is considered an irritant that sensitizes skin. In addition, Guatemalans are reported to use the dried fruit as a decoction after childbirth.

In Mexico, balsam is reported to be popular for the treatment of asthma, catarrh, and rheumatism.

On the island of Chira, off Costa Rica, the resin from the tree is used to treat toothaches by applying it to the cheek, according to Julia Morton. availability and

dosage: Powdered resin and bark are available in tablets or capsules. Dosages can vary. Commission E recommends 0.6 grams a day.

contraindications: None noted.

special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.

There have been some reports of systemic toxicity in infants from the absorption of balsam after being applied to the nipples of nursing mothers to treat scabies, according to Fetrow and Avila. medical research: Commission E considers balsam to be useful for treating catarrh.

A study done in Greece found that balsam of Peru caused a contact dermatitis reaction in 113 of 664 patients.

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