Balsam of Peru

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Resins

Peru balsam is obtained by incision of the stem of Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae (Royle) Klotsch at high temperature, belonging to family Papilionaceae.






Peruvian Balsam; Indian Balsam; China oil; Black Balsam; Honduras Balsam; Surnam Balsam; Peru Balsam; Balsa-mum peruvianum.


Biological Source


Peru balsam is obtained by incision of the stem of Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae (Royle) Klotsch at high temperature, belonging to family Papilionaceae.


Geographical Source


The plant is most widely found in Colombia, Venezuela, Central America (San Salvador), in forests near Pacific coast and cultivated in West Indies, Cuba, Florida, and Sri Lanka.




M. pereirae is a large tree, about 25 meters in height. Peru balsam is a pathological resin and is formed when the plant is injured. The 10-years old tree is beaten on four sides in November or December. The cracked bark is scorched with torch to separate it from the trunk. Within a week the bark is dropped from trunk and the balsam begins to flow from the exposed wood. The injured part is covered with cloths or rags in which the resin is absorbed. When the cloths are saturated with exudates, they are removed from time to time and boiled with water. On cooling the water extracted balsam is settled out which is removed, strained, packed in tin cans, and exported to get balsamo de trapo.


The balsam produced in the bark is obtained by boiling the bark in water and is known as tacuasonte (prepared without fire) or balsamo de cascara (balsam of the bark). By the removal of narrow strips of bark and the replacement of scorching with the use of a hot iron the tree recovers in six months. The drug is chiefly exported from Acajutla (San Salvador) and Belize (British Honduras) in tin container holding about 27 kg.




Fresh Peru Balsam is a soft, yellow, viscous syrupy liquid, or semisolid. On keeping it becomes dark brown, or nearly black, brittle solid. It softens on heating in which crystals of cinnamic acid may be visible under microscope, it does not stick, has an empyreumatic, aromatic, vanilla-like odour, and a bitter, acrid, persistent taste. It is insoluble in water and olive oil but soluble in alcohol, chloroform, and glacial acetic acid, usually with a slight opalescense.


The solution in alcohol (90%) becomes turbid on the addition of further solvent. The relative density, 1.14–1.17, is a good indication of purity, and if abnormal indicates adulteration with fixed oils, alcohol and kerosene.


          Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae

Chemical Constituents


The drug contains balsamic esters (45–70%) like benzyl cinnamate (cinnamein), (50–60%), benzyl benzoate, and cinnamyl cinnamate (styracin), resin (28%) consisting of peruresinotannol combined with cinnamic and benzoic acids, alcohols [nerolidol (peruviol), farnesol, and benzyl alcohol], and small amounts of vanillin and free cinnamic acid.



Chemical Tests

1.  Its alcoholic solution gives green colour with ferric chloride.

2.  TLC of its ethyl acetate shows two main spots of benzylic esters under UV light.

3.  TLC sprayed with phosphomolybdic acid shows the presence of nerolidol.

4.  It reacts with potassium permanganate to yield benzaldehyde.




Peru Balsam is used as miticide, to aid in healing of indolent wounds, as scabicide and parasiticide, in skin catarrh, diarrhoea, ulcer therapy, as local protectant, and rubefacient. It is an antiseptic and vulnerary and as a stimulating expectorant. It is also employed in perfumery and some chocolate flavourings, also in making of odours.


Peruvian Balsam is topically used as an antiseptic to treat burns, frostbites, cracks, erythema, pruritus, ulcers, and wounds. Its suppositories are used to cure pain, pruritus, piles, and other anal disorders. It is an ingredient in cosmetic and hygiene products (soups, creams, lotions, detergents) and in fixative. It can cause contact dermatitis in some people.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparation known as Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 12 Vitamin C Enriched.


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