072. Styrax benzoin. Benjamin tree.

Botanical name: 

072. Styrax benzoin. 072. Styrax benzoin. C. Also see 071. Styrax officinale. Officinal Storax.
Benzoë, Pharm Lond. & Edinb. ex hac arbore exsudat.

Synonyma. Benjui. Garcias ab Horto in Clusii Exoticis, p. 155.
Arbor Benzoini. Grimm. in Ephemer. Acad. Nat. Curios. Dec. 2. Ann. 1. p. 370. fig. 31. Sylvius in Valentini Historia Simplicium, p. 487.
Benzuin. Radermacher in Act. Societ. Bataviae vol. iii. p. 44.
Benjamin or Benzoin. Marsden's Hist. of Sumatra, p. 123.
Laurus Benzoin. Houttuyn in Act. Harlem, vol. xxi. p. 265. tab. 7. See Dryander's Botanical Description of the Benjamin Tree of Sumatra. Phil. Trans. vol. lxxvii. p. 307.

Class Decandria. Ord. Monogynia. Lin. Gen. Plant. 595.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cal. inferus. Cor. infundibuliformis. Drupa 2-sperma.
Spec. Char. S. foliis oblongis acuminatis subtus tomentosis, racemis compositis longitudine foliorum. Dryander. l. c.

This tree is of quick growth, and rises to a considerable height: it sends off many strong round branches, which are covered with a tomentose or whitish downy bark: the leaves are oblong, entire, veined, tapering to a long point, on the upper surface smooth, on the under downy; they stand alternately upon short footstalks, which are round, scored, and downy: the flowers are produced in bunches, and usually hang all on the same side upon short slender pedicles: the racemi, or common peduncles, are nearly of the length of the leaves, compound or branched, downy, and arise from the axillae of the leaves: the calyx is short, bell-shaped, downy, and divided at the extremity into five obscure imperfect teeth: the corolla is monopetalous, externally of a cineritious colour, downy, and cut into five obtuse parallel segments growing close together: the filaments are ten, of the length of the calyx, adhering at the base, bearded towards the top, forming a circle upon the receptacle in which they are inserted, and crowned with linear erect: anthers: the germen is oval, downy, and placed above the insertion of the corolla: the style is filiform, longer than the stamina, and terminated with a simple stigma: the fruit is similar to that of the Styrax officinale. Descriptio botanica a cl. Dryander.
Rami teretes, tometitofi.
Folia alterna, petiolata, oblonga, integerrima, acuminata, venosa, supra glabra, subtus tomentosa, palmaria. Petioli teretes, striati, canalicular, tomentosi, brevissimi.
Racemi axillares, compositi, longitudine fere foliorum. Pedunculi communes tomentosi; partiales alterni, patentes, tomentosi. Pedicelli brevissimi. Flores secundi.
Calyx campanulatus, obsoletissime quinquedentatus, extus tomentosus, linea longior.
Petala quinque, (basi forte connata) linearia, obtusa, extus tomento tenuissimo cinerea, calyce quadruplo longiora.
Filamenta decem, receptaculo inserta, petalis paulo breviora, inferne connata in cylindrical longitudine calycis, superne infra antheras ciliata. Antherae lineares, filamentis longitudinaliter adnatae, iisque dimidio breviores.
Germen superum, ovatum, tomentosum. Stylus filiformis, staminibus longior. Stigma. simplex.]

The botanical character of this tree was entirely mistaken by modern botanists, even till the year 1787, when that excellent naturalist, Mr. Dryander, fully ascertained it to be a styrax. [L. c. Before this time however Sir Joseph Banks seemed to have no doubt that the Benjamin-tree was a Styrax. Vide Loder in Balding. Med. Journ. P. 5. p. 50.] This was done at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who obtained a proper specimen for the purpose from Mr. Marsden at Sumatra: and as we have copied the figure given by Mr. Dryander, we shall also tranfcribe the following observations with which it is introduced. "Though Garcias ab Horto, Grim, and Sylvius, [Vide lib. in Synon. cit.] were acquainted with the real tree from which Benjamin, or Benzoin, is collected, their descriptions of it are so imperfect and insufficient for its botanical determination, that succeeding botanists have fallen into many errors concerning it; and it is remarkable, that although this drug was always imported from the East-Indies, most of the later writers on the Materia Medica have conceived it to be collected from a species of Laurus, native of Virginia, to which, from this erroneous supposition, they have given the trivial name of Benzoin. This mistake seems to have originated with Mr. Ray, who in his Historia Plantarum, vol. ii. p. 1845, at the end of his account of the Arbor Benivifera of Garcias, says, "Ad nos scripsit D. Tancredus Robinson Arborem resiniseram odoratam foliis citrinis praedictae haud absimilem transmissam fuisse e Virginia a D. Banister, ad illustrissimum Praesulem D. Henr. Compton, in cujus instructissimo horto culta est. — Arbor ista Virginiana Citrii, vel Limonii foliis Benzoinum fundens, in horto reverendissimi Episcopi culta." This error was detected by Linnaeus, but another was substituted by him in its place; [This discovery was not made till after the publication of his Spec. Plant, where it stands as a laurus.] for in his Mantissa Plantarum Altera he tells us, that Benjamin is furnished by a shrub described there under the name of Croton Benzoë, and afterwards, in the Supplementum Plantarum, describes again the same plant, under the name of Terminalia Benzoin. M. Jacquin, who had been informed that this shrub was called by the French Bienjoint, supposes, with reason, that the similar sound of that word with Benjoin, the French name for Benjamin, may have occasioned this mistake. [Hort. Vindob. vol. iii p. 51.] Since that period, Dr. Houttuyn has described the Benjamin tree of Sumatra; but for want of good specimens has been so unfortunate as to mistake the genus to which it belongs." [Houttuyn had the specimens from Rademacher, from which he determined the tree to be a laurus.]

This tree, which is a native of Sumatra, is deemed, in six years, of sufficient age for affording the Benzoine, or when its trunk acquires about seven or eight inches in diameter; the bark is then cut through longitudinally, or somewhat obliquely, at the origin of the principal lower branches, [Vide Grimm & Marsden, l. c. p. 124.] from which the drug exudes in a liquid state, and by exposure to the sun and air soon concretes, when it is scraped off from the bark with a knife, or chissel. The quantity of Benzoine which one tree affords never exceeds three pounds, [Grimm. l. c.] nor are the trees found to sustain the effects of these annual incisions longer than ten or twelve years. [Marsden. l. c.] The Benzoine which issues first from the wounded bark is the purest, being soft, extremely fragrant, and very white; that, which is less esteemed, is of a brownish colour, very hard, and mixed with various impurities, which it acquires during its long continuance upon the trees. [Grimm. l. c.] Eschelskron [Cfr. Eschelskron Beschreib. von Sumatra, p. 62.] distinguishes Benzoine into three kinds, viz. Camayan poeti, or white Benjamin, which, upon being melted in a bladder by the heat of the sun, appears marked with red streaks, or veins. Camayan bamatta is less white than the former, and often spotted with white circles, called eyes, from the number of which its goodness is estimated: it likewise melts by the heat of the sun. Camayan itam, or black Benjamin, which requires to be melted in hot water for its preservation in bladders. In Arabia, Persia, and other parts of the East the coarser kinds of Benjamin are consumed for fumigating and perfuming the temples, and for destroying insects.

The Benzoine which we find here in the shops "is in large brittle masses, composed partly of white, partly of yellowish or light brown, and often also of darker coloured pieces: that which is clearest, and contains the most white matter, called by authors benzoe amygdaloides, is accounted the best." "This resin has very little taste, impressing on the palate only a slight sweetness: its smell, especially when rubbed or heated, is extremely fragrant and agreeable. It totally dissolves in rectified spirit, the impurities excepted, which are generally in a very small quantity, into a deep yellowish red liquor, and in this state discovers a degree of warmth and pungency, as well as sweetness. It imparts, by digestion, to water also a considerable share of its fragrance, and a slight pungency: the filtered liquor, gently exhaled, leaves, not a resinous or mucilaginous extract, but a crystalline matter, seemingly of a saline nature, amounting to one-tenth, or one-eighth, of the weight of the Benzoine." [Lewis M. M. p. 142.] Exposed to the fire in proper vessels, it yields a quantity of a white saline concrete, called flores benzoës, of an acidulous taste, and grateful odour, soluble in rectified spirit, and in water by the assistance of heat.

As the trees,which afford the drugs benzoine and styrax, are congeners, and as their resinous products are very similar in their external appearances, and not widely different in their sensible qualities, it is reasonable to suppose them analogous in their medicinal effects. Benzoine, however, though rarely employed in a simple state, has been frequently prescribed as a pectoral; and we find it recommended for inveterate coughs, asthmas, obstructions of the lungs, and phthisical complaints, unattended with much fever: it has also been used as a cosmetic, and in the way of fumigation for the resolution of indolent tumours. Dr. Cullen, who classes Benzoine with the stimulants, says, "The flowers, which is the only preparation employed, are manifestly a saline substance of the acid kind, of considerable acrimony and stimulant power, as I have found in every trial of them I have made. It has been recommended as a pectoral, and I have employed it in some asthmatic cases without finding it of use; and in a dose of half a dram it appeared to be heating and hurtful." [Mat. Med. vol. ii. p. 192. We may also notice, that Dr. Cullen thinks "the benzoine is a singular composition of an acid salt with an oily and resinous substance; but as a saline matter of the same kind is found in most of the turpentines and balsams—it appears to me, that the benzoin affords an analogy for explaining the composition of all these."] In the pharmacopoeias the flowers are directed in the tinctura opii camphorata, and it is ordered in substance in the tinctura benzoës composita.

Medical Botany, 1790-1794, was written by William Woodville, M. D., and illustrated by James Sowerby.