Styrax benzoin is a tree which originated in Laos and Vietnam, but now grows in and around Malaysia, Java and Sumatra. It grows to a height of about 20 m (66 ft). The leaves are oval and hairy; the flowers are fleshy, greenish yellow in colour and slightly balsamic. Benzoin is the gum resin which exudes from the bark after tapping and the trees can apparently produce resin in this way for about 15 to 20 years.
Benzoin was first known in English as benjoin (recorded in the sixteenth century), which was popularly corrupted to benjamin. This is an adaptation of the same word in French, Spanish and Portuguese which derived from the Arab luban-jawi, ‘incense from Sumatra (Java)’. In old recipes, benzoin is variously called gum benzoin, gum benjamin, benjamin, benzoin, oil of ben, even storax (which is a sweet-smelling gum resin extracted from the tree Styrax officinalis).
The Ancient Greeks and Romans knew benzoin, although they called it by quite different names – ‘Silphion’ to the Greeks, and ‘Laserpitium’ to the Romans. They would include the powdered resin in pot-pourris because of its very powerful fixative properties. Benzoin was highly valued by all. In 1461, for instance, the Sultan of Egypt, Melech Elmazda, sent the Doge of Venice a gift of two Persian carpets and 30 rotoli (100 rotoli is the equivalent of 80kg/177 lb) of benzoin. The Queen of Cyprus received a similarly sumptuous present from the Sultan in 1476, 15 rotoli of benzoin. The Portuguese navigator, Barboza, is thought to have introduced the precious resin to Europe. Later, in 1623, the resin’s properties were sufficiently valued for the British to set up a factory in Siam to produce and export it.
Nostradamus, famous for his prognostications, gave many recipes including benzoin in a 1556 book. It was classified as an antispasmodic and tonic for skin infections and eruptions. In France it was called’ baume pulmonaire’, pulmonary balsam, and the resin was burned near the ill person, the fumes inhaled. In France many proprietary medicines are based on benzoin: sweets called pastilles de serail are taken for colds and ‘flu and tablets made that are bechic and anti-asthmatic. Its properties were not unknown in British medicine either, because friar’s balsam, used as an inhalant and application for ulcers and wounds, is a tincture of benzoin compound.
In the ancient Malayan culture benzoin was used as an incense and fumigation to drive away evil spirits and also for ceremonial purposes. Ancient transcripts show that the Greeks and Romans used benzoin over 2000 years ago, although interestingly they did not appear to use it as a medicine, reserving its use predominantly for incense purposes. The Arab traders called benzoin ‘luban-jawi’ which means ‘incense from Java’.
In England its use was first recorded between the 15th and 16th centuries when it was brought over by spice traders and used in powdered form to make dry perfumes, one of which was worn by Queen Elizabeth I. In later years, the medical profession of the day began to expand the boundaries between perfume and medicine and benzoin began to take a more therapeutic role. The resin was burned to relieve bronchitis and coughs, and eventually modified into a tincture that became popular in the apothecaries.
What is Benzoin Essential Oil?
Fixing up your skin setbacks, respiratory ailments and mental mayhems is just a few steps away, until you reach the sacred aroma of Benzoin essential oil. Blessed with a divine fragrance and handful of healing values, Benzoin has been in use since thousands of years as a holy aromatic agent in temples and other religious ceremonies.
Benzoin essential oil has a sweet inviting aroma setting the scene of a pleasant summer’s day. As it exudes, the resin is yellowish. But when it thickens and hardens, it becomes brownish-red. It has a strong smell of vanilla, and is very aromatic; to taste, it is rather acrid. The resin is cleaned, and is available powdered, in two forms of tincture, simple and compound (the latter benzoin tincture being too strong for use on the skin), or as an essential oil.
This process of cutting the bark of the tree to obtain the crude balsamic resin exudates is called tapping, and is not usually employed until the tree is around seven years old. After tapping, the exudate is left to harden and dry before collection which will be 3 or 4 months later, after which it is sifted and graded.
The oil is extracted from the balsamic resin by means of a solvent, and because the resulting resinoid is still too viscous (thick) to work with at this stage, a diluent is added to the resinoid to make it mobile and easier to use. After this process, the oil is referred to as a resinoid.
Chemical Constituents of Benzoin Essential Oil
The principal constituents: 70 -80 per cent resin, 20 -25 per cent cinnamic acid, a small quantity of vanillin (thus the smell), benzyl benzoate, coniferyl benzoate, benzoic acid, phenylethylene and phenylpropylic alcohol Danger: Benzoin can cause allergic reactions, so do a skin test before use.
Benefits of Benzoin Essential Oil
The health benefits of Benzoin Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as antidepressant, carminative, cordial, deodorant, disinfectant, relaxant, diuretic, expectorant, antiseptic, vulnerary, astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and sedative substance.
1. Antidepressant and Cordial
Benzoin essential oil raises spirit and uplifts mood. That is why it was and still is widely used in religious ceremonies in many parts of the world. This is used in incense sticks and other such substances which, when burnt, gives out smoke with the characteristic aroma of Benzoin essential oil. The molecules of the components of this oil, along with inhaled smoke, get into our nostrils and are detected by our smell receptors and their effects are transmitted to our brain, thereby stimulating the nervous center. This also gives a warm feeling, stimulates the heart beat and improves circulation. These properties of Benzoin essential oil were detected long ago and used to create a mood of celebration in a gathering.
2. Relaxant and Sedative
Benzoin essential oil, besides being a stimulant and an antidepressant on one hand, is a relaxant and sedative on the other. It relieves anxiety, tension, nervousness and stress. Actually, it brings the nervous system and neurotic system to normal. That is why, in case of depression, it gives a feeling of uplifted mood and in case of anxiety and stress, it relaxes people. It also has tranquilizing effects. Thus, it may not be used by students, particularly during exams when they intend to study over night.
This describes an agent which protects open wounds from infections. This property of Benzoin essential oil has been known for ages and instances of such use have been found from the remains of many old civilizations around the world.
4. Antiseptic and Disinfectant
It is a very good antiseptic and disinfectant. The components like Benzaldehyde, Benzoic Acid and Benzyl Benzoate are very effective germicidal, bactericidal, fungicidal and antiviral substances. Even the extent to which its smoke spreads on burning makes the zone disinfected from germs. When externally applied on wounds, it prevents it sepsis from developing.
5. Carminative and Anti-flatulent
Benzoin essential oil has carminative and anti-flatulent properties. It helps in the removal of gases from the stomach and the intestines and relieves inflation of the intestines. This is once again due to its relaxing effects. It relaxes the muscular tension in the abdominal area and help gases pass out. This helps digestion and improves appetite.
Being very rich in aroma, benzoin essential oil is extensively used as deodorant for rooms and the body. Its smoke fills the rooms with a nice aroma and drives away odor. Mixed with bathing water and massage oils, or if applied on body, it kills body odor as well as the germs that cause the odor. In olden days, women in some parts of the world used to smoke their hair with Benzoin essential oil smoke to make it smell good. This property comes from the presence of derivatives of Benzene ring in this oil. Actually, benzene is a cyclic hydrocarbon and like all other cyclic organic compounds, is aromatic in nature.
It has astringent properties, which tone up the muscles and the skin. If mixed with water and used as a mouthwash, it also tightens the gums. This astringent property is very helpful for face-lifting and for the reduction of wrinkles on the skin. The essential oil of Benzoin has amazing healing for nourishing your skin and helps you look younger and charming. The book on ‘Aromatherapy: Essential oil for vibrant health and beauty’ by Roberta Wilson quotes, “Benzoin was often added to cosmetics to keep skin clear and youthful. People in many different cultures have appreciated its ability to soothe and stimulate the skin.”
Benzoin essential oil, being warm and disinfectant in nature, behaves as a good expectorant. It helps in the removal of coughs from the respiratory system comprising the trachea, bronchi and lungs, and relieves congestion. This therefore eases breathing. Its tranquilizing properties help relax and induce sleep for patients who cannot sleep due to extreme congestion from coughs and colds. Due to this property, it is also used in balms, rubs, and vaporizers.
It has diuretic properties, meaning that it promotes and facilitates urination, both in frequency and in quantity, thereby helping removal of toxic substances from the blood through urination. Urination also helps in lowering blood pressure, losing weight and improving digestion.
It is anti-inflammatory in nature and soothes inflammation in cases of pox, measles, rashes, eruptions and others. It also helps soothe inflammation of the digestive system caused due to excessive ingestion of spicy food.
11. Anti-rheumatic and Anti-arthritic
These are two of the most used properties of Benzoin essential oil. It gives very good relief in rheumatism and arthritis, when applied externally, due to the easy absorption of benzyl components in it through the skin pores. Due to this, it is used in a number of anti-arthritic balms. Rheumatism generally occurs due to the stagnation of excess water deposits in the system. This leads to improper blood circulation, inflammation, swelling, redness, pain, soreness and difficulty in the normal functioning of the body. Excess of water and fluids in the human body is mainly caused due to the imbalance of kapha dosha, which is responsible for similar diseases like obesity, respiratory illnesses etc. To get rid of rheumatic and arthritic problems, Ayurveda suggests a healthy diet that naturally controls kapha vitiation along with yogasanas that treat rheumatism and arthritis and the use of Ayurvedic essential oils like Benzoin essential oil. The Arthritis Foundation reported that a research by the John Hopkins University has concluded that yoga is extremely beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis after publishing its research analysis stating that “who participated in eight weeks of yoga classes had significantly fewer tender and swollen joints than they did before starting class.”
Uses of Benzoin Essential Oil
A number of Benzoin essential oil uses are suggested here to guide you in any practical remedy applications.
- When rheuma or arthritis occurs, massage the painful parts with 3 drops of Benzoin essential oil mixed with 1 drop of Ginger oil, 1 drop of Lavender oil, 1 drop of Black pepper oil, 1 drop of Juniper berry oil with 4 ml of Coconut oil. You can also add 2 drops of Benzoin essential oil and 2 drops of Marjoram oil in warm bathing water or in hot compress for improved results. This formula works quickly as the benzyl components in the Benzoin essential oil are easily absorbed by the pores of the skin.
- When you mix 1 drop of Benzoin essential oil with 1 drop of Eucalyptus oil and 1 drop of Niaouli oil in steam inhalation, it will aid in loosening the accumulated phlegm and mucus relieving congestion and cleansing the breathing passages.
- Gently massaging your chest, throat and back with your vaporizing ointment mixed with 2 drops of Benzoin essential oil and 2 drops of Frankincense oil, following the steam inhalation can aid in relieving cough, cold, congestion, bronchitis, laryngitis, blocked nose, asthma and other respiratory allergies.
- 2 drops of Benzoin essential oil along with 1 drop of Ylang Ylang oil and 1 drop of Orange oil added to your vaporizer, burner or diffuser can assist in stimulating the central nervous system, pacifying the mind, granting mental clarity, controlling anger, treating anxiety, improving blood circulation and instilling the power to control depressive feelings.
- Applying the mix of 2 drops of Benzoin essential oil with 1 drop of Lavender oil, 1 drop of Rose oil, 1 drop of Lemon oil, 1 drop of Bergamot oil, 1 drop of Frankincense oil and 4 ml of Sweet almond oil on pimples, wounds, cuts, sores, scars and other infectious skin problems can help in protecting the infected parts from germs and promote quicker healing.
- Benzoin is particularly useful for eczema and psoriasis, using powdered clay (green if possible). Place 25 ml (1 ½ tbsp) clay in a small dish, add 3 drops benzoin essential oil, and enough distilled water to make a smooth paste. Apply immediately to the affected areas, leave for a minimum of 20 minutes, then rinse off with a Chamomile infusion (put 3 heads of the dried flowers in a cup of boiling water, infuse for 10 minutes, then strain and cool). The eczema and psoriasis should look much better, much less angry and irritated, as the paste is very soothing. Repeat a few times per day when the condition is acute.
Precautions for Benzoin Essential Oil
Benzene and its derivatives, despite being highly aromatic, are toxic in nature. Therefore, ingestion or inhalation in excessive quantities can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, and lack of oxygen in the blood so it should be avoided.
Some books recommend using benzoin in creams and lotions for cuts, chapped skin and generally irritated skin conditions, but observe extreme caution when using benzoin on broken and sensitized skin. Although benzoin has not previously been considered to have any contra-indications, recently questions regarding sensitization have been raised. When used as part of a blend with other essential oils however, these risks are much reduced.
To be safe, avoid using benzoin in massage oils, creams and lotions on already irritated and sensitized skin. And one final tip – don’t use benzoin in a bath since it usually sinks to the bottom and can stain the plastic or enamel finish!
Blending for Benzoin Essential Oil
Benzoin essential oil blends well with other resinous oils like Frankincense or Myrrh. It also blends well with wood oils like Sandalwood and Cedarwood. It marries well with a hint of Vetiver and/or Patchouli. With its vanilla-like character, Benzoin essential oil has a special affinity for use with other essential oils like Sweet Orange, Mandarin, Tangerine, Petit Grain, Coriander, Lavender, Lemon, Cinnamon, Cypress, Ginger, Jasmine, Juniper and Bergamot. It will also smell divine especially when blended with Yuzu Essential Oil.