The Arabs, who traded it for a frankincense substitute, called this Southeast Asia tree “incense of Java,” or luban jawi. The Europeans interpreted this as benjawi and pronounced it “benjamin,” then “benzoin.” They made solid “vanilla” pomades from it. In India, the fragrance is sacred to the Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu triad, and Malays use it to deter devils during rice-harvesting ceremonies. The sweeter Sumatran S. tonkinense, especially the thick “almond tears,” is considered better quality than the Sumatran S. benzoin.
Extraction: Solvent extracted from gum resin. Absolute, often thinned with ethyl glycol. It has a sweet, vanilla-like odor.
Medicinal Action: Once called “friar’s balsam” because it soothes coughs and relieves lung congestion, a formula is still sold by this name. It is also used to treat poor circulation and muscular problems.
Cosmetic/Skin Use: Benzoin is antiseptic, antifungal, protects chapped skin and increases skin elasticity.
Emotional Attribute: This fragrance is for those who feel anxious, emotionally blocked, lonely or exhausted, especially from a life crisis. It creates a “safe space” that protects one from outside interference.
Considerations: Skin sensitizing.
Balsam of Tolu (Myroxylon balsamum) — A Colombian tree once cultivated by the Incas for its vanilla-like fragrance and medicine. The oil, distilled from the gum resin, treats lung congestion, scabies, eczema, and ringworm. Skin sensitizing.
Balsam of Peru (M. balsamum var. Pereirae) –This El Salvadoran tree got its name because it was shipped with Peruvian goods. The taste is hotter and more bitter than tolu. Skin sensitizing.
Styrax (Liquidamber orientalis) –The vanilla-like resin from this tree is used for indigestion, intestinal worms, poor appetite (especially due to illness), insomnia and menstrual irregularity. It can be toxic in quantity. L. styraciflua is the American variety. Skin sensitizing.