Scientific Name(S): Derived from Toluifera balsamum L. which is synonymous with Myroxylon toluiferum HBK and M. balsamamum (L.) Harms. Family: Leguminosae
Common Name(S): Opobalsam, resin tolu, Thomas balsam, tolu balsam, balsamum tolutanum, balsam of Tolu, resina tolutana
T. balsamum is a tall tree native to South America and grows abundantly on the high plains and mountains of Venezuela, Columbia, and Peru. It is also cultivated in the West Indies. The balsam is collected from incisions made in the tree trunk. The tree differs little from that yielding Balsam of Peru.
Tolu balsam is most known for its fragrance and flavoring in pharmaceutical products, although it does have mild antiseptic and expectorant properties.
Allergic reactions have been reported in conjunction with tolu balsam.
Tolu balsam has been used for centuries as a fragrance in perfumes, candies, and chewing gums. Today, it remains in use in pharmaceutical preparations, in the form of a syrup, as an expectorant and as a fragrant vehicle for other compounds. It is an ingredient in compound benzoin tincture that is used for the treatment of bedsores, cracked skin, and minor cuts. It has been reported to have been used in the folk treatment of cancer.
Tolu balsam is a yellow-brown semifluid or near solid material with an aromatic vanilla-like odor and taste. On drying it becomes hard and brittle. It is insoluble in water but soluble in pharmaceutical solvents such as alcohol, ether, sodium hydroxide solution, and chloroform. The balsam contains up to 80% resin, approximately 15% free cinnamic acid and benzoic acid, and about 40% of the benzyl and related esters of these free acids. A volatile oil is present in small amounts (from 1.5% to 7%) as is a small amount of vanillin (0.05%). A wide variety of additional minor components have been identified in the balsam.5 The concentrations of these components vary widely in commercial products because of a lack of international standards for tolu balsam.
Tolu balsam is an aromatic plant extract that finds widespread use as a fragrance and in flavoring pharmaceutical products. It is not generally used for any unique pharmacologic action, although it is a component of compound tincture of benzoin, which is used to speed wound healing.
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