Related entry: Balsamum Tolutanum (U. S. P.)—Balsam of Tolu
"A balsam obtained from Toluifera Pareirae (Royle), Baillon"—(U. S. P.). Myrospermum of Sonsonate, Pareira; Myrospermum Pareirae, Royle; Myroxylon Pereirae, Klotzsch; Toluifera Balsamum, var. Baillon.
COMMON NAMES: (Tree) Peru balsam tree; (Balsam) Balsam of Peru.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Köhler, Med. Pflanzen Atlas; Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 83.
Botanical Source.—A beautiful tree much resembling the Toluifera Balsamum, Miller, growing to a height of about 60 feet, the ramifications of its branches beginning low at a distance of from 7 to 10 feet from the ground and having both a spreading and ascending tendency. The young branches are covered with a smooth, gray, or purplish bark, beset with yellowish or white penticels. The alternate, petioled leaves are odd-pinnate, with from 7 to 11 leaflets. The leaf-stem, somewhat thickened at the base, and the base of the leaves are beset with a dense growth of very stout, yellow, reverse hairs. The leaflets are about 3 inches long and half as wide, lanceolate-ovate, rounded at base, pointed (the point being sometimes twisted), undulate, and folded at the edge. They are finely veined, and within the venation of the leaf-substance there occur more or less rounded or oblong, oil receptacles, transparent when held up to the light. The mid-rib is very prominent on the under-surface of the leaf. The flowers are numerous, hermaphrodite, and long-peduncled, in slender racemes. The fruit is an oblanceolate, indehiscent legume, about 2 to 4 inches long, and contains one seed, the mesocarp of which exhibits balsam receptacles, especially two oblong vittae upon each side.
History and Collection.—Until recent ears it has generally been believed that the tree yielding Peru balsam was the Myroxylon Peruiferum of Linné filius, a tree growing along the western coast of South America and in Brazil. Pareira (1850), however, showed that another species produced it, and provisionally named that species the Myrospermum of Sonsonate. Some authors, like Baillon, Carson, Ruiz, and others, regard the trees furnishing the balsams of Peru and Tolu as identical. Others, however, regard them as entirely distinct from each other. Flückiger and Hanbury, in Pharmacographia, make the following distinctions:
"M. TOLUIFERA: Trunk tall and bare, branching at 40 to 60 feet from the ground, and forming a roundish crown of foliage. Calyx rather tubular. Racemes dense, 3 to 4 ½ inches long. Legume scarcely narrowed towards the stalk end."
"M. PAREIRAE: Trunk throwing off ascending branches at 6 to 10 feet from the ground. Calyx widely cup-shaped, shallow. Racemes loose, 6 to 7 inches long. Legumes much narrowed toward the stalk-end."
The Peru balsam tree inhabits the coast region of San Salvador in Central America. While the trees are found singly or in clusters in the forests, the are generally owned by certain individuals who control the collection of the balsam, which is done by the natives. The trees are in the sections known as the Indian Reservation Lands of the Balsam Coast. The flowers are said to be so fragrant as to be smelled at a long distance, even before one is in sight of the trees.
Dr. Charles Dorat, of Sonsonate, in a letter to Mr. Daniel Hanbury, gives the following account of the collection of Balsam of Peru:
"Early in the month of November or December, or after the last rains, the balsam trees are beaten on four sides of their stems with the back of an ax, a hammer, or other blunt instrument until the bark is loosened, four intermediate strips being left untouched that the tree may not be injured for the next year. Five or six days after men with resinous torches or bundles of lighted wood apply heat to the beaten bark, which becomes charred. It is left eight days, during which the burnt pieces of bark either fall or are taken off. As soon as they perceive that the bare places are moist with the exuding balsam, which takes place in a few days, pieces of rag (of any kind or color) are placed so as entirely to cover the bare wood. As these become saturated with the balsam, which is of a light-yellowish color, they are collected and thrown into an earthenware boiler, three-quarters filled with water, and stirred and boiled gently until the rags appear nearly clean, and the now dark and heavy balsam sinks to the bottom. Fresh rags belonging to the same owner are continually being put into the boiler until sun-down, when the fire is extinguished; when cold the water in the boiler is poured off, and the impure balsam set aside. During this process the rags that appear to have been cleared of balsam are taken out of the boiler at different times and given to a man to be pressed, by which means much balsam is still obtained. The press consists of a small open bag about 14 inches long, made of stout rope fixed together with twine, open at the middle and looped at both ends to receive two sticks. The rags are placed inside, and the whole is twisted round by means of the sticks and the balsam thus squeezed out. A washerwoman wringing out a wet cloth fairly represents the process. The balsam thus procured is added to that in the boiler. The next day the cold balsam is weighed and put into tecomates or gourds of different sizes and sent to market" (extract from Reprint, with additions from Pharm. Jour. and Trans., Dec., 1863, article on Peru Balsam, by Daniel Hanbury).
Balsam of Peru is so-called because it originally went to Europe from Peruvian ports, and was thought to be a product of the Peruvian tree above mentioned. It now enters commerce from Acajutla either in earthenware jars or in metal drums. The balsam of our markets is not constant in quality or appearance.
Description.—Balsam of Peru is "a liquid having a syrupy consistence, free from stringiness or stickiness, of a brownish-black color in bulk, reddish-brown and transparent in thin layers, of an agreeable vanilla-like, somewhat smoky odor, and a bitter taste, leaving a persistent after-taste. On exposure to air it does not become hard. Specific gravity: 1.135 to 1.150 at 15° C. (59° F.). Miscible, in all proportions, with absolute alcohol, chloroform, or glacial acetic acid; only partially soluble in ether or benzin. It is completely soluble in 5 parts of alcohol. Water agitated with a portion of the balsam reddens blue litmus paper"—(U. S. P.). It is inflammable, burning with a fuliginous flame, and giving out an aromatic odor. It is miscible with water by means of mucilage.
Tests.—"If 1 Cc. of carbon disulphide be mixed with 3 Cc. of the balsam, contained in a dry test-tube, a clear liquid will result. On now adding 8 more Cc. of carbon disulphide and agitating the resinous constituent of the balsam (amounting to about 15 per cent) will adhere to the walls of the tube, and the liquid portion will be clear, of a tint not deeper than light-brownish, and not more than faintly fluorescent (absence of gurjun balsam). If 2 Cc. of the balsam be vigorously shaken in a dry test-tube with 8 Cc. of benzin, so that the balsam may be spread over the walls of the tube, and the liquid then immediately poured off, the balsam should remain adherent to the walls for some minutes and subside slowly, while the liquid (which should be filtered if turbid) should be colorless or only faintly yellow, and should deposit no sediment on standing (absence of appreciable quantities of storax, turpentine, copaiba, etc.). If 10 drops of the balsam be triturated in a small mortar with 20 drops of sulphuric acid, a tough, homogeneous, brownish-red mass will result, which, when washed with cold water, should, after a few minutes, be converted into a brittle, resinous mass (absence of fixed oils). On distilling water with a portion of the balsam no essential oil should pass over"—(U. S. P.).
G. L. Ulex (Jour. Pharm. and Trans., Vol. XII, p. 549, from Archiv. der Pharmacie, Jan., 1853) gives the following mode of detecting the purity of balsam of Peru: "To detect copaiba, balsam, the substance is to be heated in a small tube retort until a few drops of a yellow, oily liquid have passed over, which takes place at a temperature of 190° C. (374° F.). This distillate is acid and soon deposits crystals of cinnamic acid. If the balsam was pure it solidifies completely, but when adulterated with copaiba the crystals float in copaiba oil. The distillate is then to be saturated with caustic potash, and the solution of cinnamate removed by means of blotting paper. The drops of oil which are then left mix quietly with iodine if the balsam was pure, but cause an immediate explosion if copaiba was present in it." Mr. W. J. Jenks gives the following simple method for detecting the true balsam of Peru from the false or adulterated: Place a drop or two of the article on the tongue, if it be true balsam it produces a liquid, diffused impression; if the false (a solution of resin), the resin is deposited on the tongue and on the back of the teeth" (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1867, p. 7).
Chemical Composition.—The chief constituent of this balsam appears to be cinnamein (benzylic cinnamate) (C9H7[C7H7]O2). This, when treated with concentrated caustic alkalies, is resolved into benzylic alcohol (C7H8O) and cinnamic acid. The melting point of artificially-prepared cinnamein (Grimaux) is 39° C. (102.2° F.). Upon boiling it suffers decomposition.
According to the analyses of Kraut (1869) and Kachler (1870) the balsam contains, besides cinnamein, benzylic benzoate, benzoic and cinnamic acids, resin, and a small portion of benzylic alcohol, besides stilbene, found by Kraut alone. The resin (about 32 to 38 per cent) obtained as a residue by treatment with carbon disulphide is a "black, brittle, amorphous mass, having no longer the specific odor of the balsam" (Pharmacographia). By fusion with caustic potash Kachler (1869) obtained from it proto-catechuic acid; by destructive distillation toluol, styrol, and benzoic acid. Benzylic benzoate (C7H5[C7H7]O2) is an oily, colorless substance, which boils near 340° C. (644° F.) and forms crystals at a much reduced temperature. Benzylic alcohol (benzalcohol) (C7H8O) is probably the so-called peruvin of Frémy in a purified condition. It is a colorless oil, feebly aromatic, boils at 204° C. (399.2° F.), and is not so light as water. It may be resolved into bitter almond oil, and subsequently into benzoic acid, by means of oxidizers. Stilbene is in the form of scales of a pearly luster, or in prismatic crystals, fusible, and boiling near 340° C. (674° F.). Its composition is C14H12. Cinnamein (benzylic cinnamate) is a brownish, aromatic fluid before purification and colorless when pure. It constitutes about 60 per cent of Peru balsam (Kachler). It is oily, feebly and agreeably odorous, and to the taste sharp and aromatic. The difficulty of distilling it, even with superheated steam of 300° C. (572° F.) or above, renders its extraction by this method less easy than by evaporation from carbon disulphide (Flückiger). Its density is near 1.095. It is the body called by Stolze Peru balsam oil. The leaves of Myroxylon Pareirae yield a fragrant oil (Pharmacographia). Vanillin was isolated from Peru balsam by E. Schmidt, in 1885. Delafontaine, in 1870, found cinnamyl cinnamate (styracin) (C8H7.COO[C9H9]).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—This agent in medicinal doses occasions some cutaneous heat, increases the rapidity of the circulation, and augments the renal secretion, with irritation of the kidneys. Large doses, by producing gastro-intestinal irritation, may cause diarrhoea and vomiting. It should not be employed in febrile states. Balsam of Peru possesses expectorant and stimulating properties acting more especially on mucous tissues, lessening their secretions when profuse. It is useful in all chronic affections of mucous tissues, as in catarrh, gonorrhoea, mucous inflammation of the stomach and bowels, chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, leucorrhoea, etc. Externally it forms an excellent application to obstinate ulcers, wounds, ringworm of the scalp, eczema, and other cutaneous affections. It may be applied alone, or in ointment made by melting it with an equal part, by weight, of tallow. It is much employed in Germany to destroy the itch insect and its eggs. After a warm bath the whole body is rubbed three times a day with 40 drops of the balsam. This is done for two days when the scabies is cured. It is considered antiseptic, and has recently been applied locally to tuberculous ulcers, involving the bones, larynx, and skin. Wounds are readily healed by it in parts lacking vitality. Chilblains, sore nipples, pruritus vulvae, and senile pruritus are said to be promptly relieved by it. The dose is from 10 to 30 drops, and is best given diffused in water by means of sugar and the yolk of egg, or gum Arabic, or in alcoholic solution dispensed in glycerin. Used in ointment with beef's marrow, 1 ounce, sulphate of quinine 10 grains, balsam Peru 1 drachm, it forms an excellent tonic and stimulant preparation for alopecia.
Related Species.—Myroxylon Peruiferum, Linné filius (Myroxylon pedicellatum, Klotzsch; Toluifera Peruifera, Baillon). This is the tree that was formerly supposed to yield balsam of Peru. It is a large tree, with a thick, straight, smooth trunk; a coarse, gray, compact, heavy, granulated bark, of a pale, straw color, filled with resin, which, according to its quantity, changes the color to citron, yellow, red, or dark-chestnut; smell and taste grateful, balsamic, aromatic; leaves pinnated; leaflets alternate, of 2, 3, 4, or even 5 pairs, ovate-lanceolate, acute, coriaceous, somewhat emarginate at the apex, shining above, hairy on the underside, marked with transparent spots, terminal one the same size as the others; flowers in axillary racemes longer than the leaves; calyx campanulate, nearly equally 5-toothed, with the odd tooth remote from the others; petals 6, white; upper reflexed, broad, roundish, emarginate; the other four distinct, linear-lanceolate, reflexed, spreading; stamens 10, distinct, spreading, shorter than the petals; anthers mucronate; samaras pendulous, straw-colored, pedicellate, linear-oblong, about 2 inches in length, compressed, membranous, except at the apex, which is obliquely rounded, clavate, 1-celled, 1-seeded; seed reniform, lying in yellow liquid balsam, which hardens into resin (L).
The Myroxylon Peruiferum is common to the forests of Peru in low, warm, sunny situations near the river Maranon, and in other portions of South America, as New Granada, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia, flowering from July to October. The resin, obtained in small quantities, resembles Peru balsam, except that it is harder and of a deeper-red tint. No crystals could be detected in it when pressed between two warm glass-plates (Pharmacographia). Its density is 1.031. It has an astringent, feebly-pungent, balsamic taste. With sulphuric acid it yields a sticky, grease-like mass, and not a brittle resinous body like Peru balsam. Both castor oil and alcohol dissolve it in any quantity, forming solutions which are clear.
BALSAMO BLANCO ("Balsamito" or "Balsamo catolico or Virgin balsam") (Pharmacographia).—There is likewise a variety of Peruvian balsam of a pale-yellowish color, syrupy, becoming crystalline, highly fragrant (odor of melilot), and of a bitterish, acrid, somewhat aromatic taste. It is called White Peruvian balsam, and is obtained by expressing the fruit. It is of very fine quality, but is not prepared for market. Prismatic crystals of myroxocarpin (C24H34O3), a neutral resin, were obtained from it by Stenhouse, in 1850. Dorat (letter to Hanbury) states that "from the flowers there is distilled a most delicious and fragrant aguardiente, far superior to any brandy." When dried this balsam constitutes the Dry Peruvian balsam or Indian opobalsamum, and is of a reddish, pulverizable, resinoid character. The fruit infused in rum is used for several medicinal purposes by the natives, also under the name of balsamito.
RESINOUS EXUDATE.—The Myroxylon Pareirae exudes a natural resin, which, according to Dorat and others, is not aromatic, and which Attfield declares to be devoid of cinnamic acid. The latter found it to contain resin, uncrystallizable and feebly acid, 77.4; gum, similar to gum acacia, 17.1; limpid, fragrant, colorless, volatile oil and water, about 4.0; woody fiber, 1.5. It has no relation to the balsam, though obtained from the same tree.