Scientific Name(s): Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. balsamum
Common Name(s): arbol de Tolu, balsam of Tolu, balsamum tolutanum, estoraque, opobalsam, resin tolu, resina tolutana, Thomas balsam, tolu balsam, Tolu balsam tree, Tolubalsambaum
The species Myroxylon balsamum is a tall tree (15 to 23 m high) native to the high plains and mountains of Central and South America. The plant bears evergreen pinnate leaves and racemes of white flowers. The hardwood tree contains oil that is naturally resistant to insects and has a characteristic scent. The plant is the only species within the genus Myroxylon; however, there are 2 varieties, var. pereirae and var. balsamum, known as Balsam of Peru and Balsam of Tolu, respectively (see Peru Balsam).Duke 2002, USDA 2012 A synonym is Toluifera balsamum L.
Tolu balsam has been used for centuries as a fragrance in perfumes, and as a flavoring in 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 used in the treatment of bedsores, cracked skin, and minor cuts. Tolu balsam has been used in the folk treatment of bronchitis, colds, catarrh, venereal diseases, sores, wounds, and possibly cancer.Duke 2002, Evans 1989, Leung 2003
Tolu balsam is a yellow-brown, semifluid or near-solid material with an aromatic vanilla-like odor and taste. When dried, 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 (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. The concentrations of these components vary widely in commercial products because of a lack of international standards.Duke 2002, Leung 2003
Uses and Pharmacology
Tolu balsam has mild antiseptic properties and is used in the treatment of bedsores, cracked nipples, and minor skin cuts. It is also purported to have expectorant properties and is a component of compound benzoin tincture.Blumenthal 2000, Leung 2003
However, there are no animal or clinical studies to support its use for any condition.
There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosing of tolu balsam. Tolu balsam has been used in strengths up to 0.1% in soaps and 0.2% in perfumes.Leung 2003
Use of the balsam for colds is documented in the German Commission E Monographs at a dosage of 0.6 g daily.Blumenthal 2000
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Allergic reactions to tolu balsam have been reported. Considering their similar chemical composition and identical species origin, allergic reactions to Balsam of Tolu should be considered similarly to those occurring with Balsam of Peru. (See Peru Balsam monograph.)Balato 2011, Bhate 2010, Krob 2004, Nijhawan 2009
Information is lacking.
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