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Tolu Balsam

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

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 28, 2022.

Clinical Overview


Tolu balsam is best known for its fragrance and use as flavoring in pharmaceutical products, although it also has mild antiseptic and expectorant properties. There are no clinical data to support its use in any condition.


There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dosing of tolu balsam. Traditional dosage of the herb for colds has been 0.6 g daily.


Contraindications have not yet been determined.


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


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Allergic reactions have been reported.


Information is lacking.

Scientific Family

  • Fabaceae (bean)


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) 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.

Adverse Reactions

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.

Index Terms

  • Toluifera balsamum L.
  • Balsam of Peru
  • Balsam of Tolu
  • var. balsamum
  • var. pereirae



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Balato A, Balato N, Di Costanzo L, Ayala F. Contact sensitization in the elderly. Clin Dermatol. 2011;29(1):24-30. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.07.00321146728
Bhate K, Landeck L, Gonzalez E, Neumann K, Schalock PC. Genital contact dermatitis: a retrospective analysis. Dermatitis. 2010;21(6):317-320.21144343
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002:133-239.
Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy. 13th ed. London: Balliere Tindall; 1989.
Krob HA, Fleischer AB Jr, D'Agostino R Jr, Haverstock CL, Feldman S. Prevalence and relevance of contact dermatitis allergens: a meta-analysis of 15 years of published T.R.U.E. test data. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004;51(3):349-353. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2003.11.06915337975
Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Interscience; 2003.
Nijhawan RI, Molenda M, Zirwas MJ, Jacob SE. Systemic contact dermatitis. Dermatol Clin. 2009;27(3):355-364, vii. doi:10.1016/j.det.2009.05.00519580929

Further information

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