Tolu Balsam

Scientific Name(s):Derived from Toluifera balsamum L. Family: Fabaceae (beans) 1 , 2 , 3

Common Name(s): Opobalsam , resin tolu , Thomas balsam , tolu balsam , 3 balsamum tolutanum , balsam of Tolu , resina tolutana

Uses

Tolu balsam is best known for its fragrance and flavoring in pharmaceutical products, although it also has mild antiseptic and expectorant properties. Research reveals no clinical data regarding tolu balsam to treat any condition.

Dosing

There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosage of tolu balsam. Classical use of the herb for colds used a dose of 0.6 g daily.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been determined.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Allergic reactions have been reported in conjunction with tolu balsam.

Toxicology

No data.

Botany

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. 4 The species is also known as Myroxylon toluiferum HBK and M. balsamamum (L.) Harms.

History

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. 1 , 2 It is an ingredient in compound benzoin tincture 2 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. 3

Chemistry

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%) 1 , 2 as is a small amount of vanillin (0.05%). 2 A wide variety of additional minor components have been identified in the balsam. 5 , 6 The concentrations of these components vary widely in commercial products because of a lack of international standards for tolu balsam. 3

Uses and Pharmacology

Tolu balsam has mild antiseptic and expectorant properties. 3

Animal data/Clinical data

Research reveals no animal or clinical data regarding the use of tolu balsam for any condition.

Dosage

There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosage of tolu balsam. Classical use of the herb for colds used a dose of 0.6 g daily.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Allergic reactions to tolu balsam have been reported to occur in some individuals. 3

Toxicology

No data.

Bibliography

1. Windholz M, ed. The Merck Index , 10th edition. Rahway NJ: Merck and Co., 1983.
2. Hoover JE, ed. Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences , 145th edition. Easton, PA: Mack Publishing Co., 1970.
3. Leung AY. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics . New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons, 1980.
4. Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy . 13th ed. London: Balliere Tindall, 1989.
5. Wahlberg I, Enzell CR. 20R, 24 epsilon-2–ocotillone, a triterpenoid from commercial tolu balsam. Acta Chem Scand 1970;25:352.
6. Osol A, Farrar GE Jr, eds. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 25th ed. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott, 1955:1439.

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