Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Liquidambar orientalis (MILL.)
Family: N.O. Hamamelaceae

Synonyms: Liquidambar imberbe. Styrax Praeparatus. Prepared Storax. Styrax liquidus. Flussiger Amber. Liquid Storax. Balsam Styracis.
Part Used: Balsam obtained from the wood and inner bark.
Habitat: Asia Minor.

Description: A tree of 40 feet or more in height, with many branches, and a thick, purplish-grey bark; leaves palmately cut into five, three-lobed sections, and white flowers arranged in little, round solitary heads. The name Liquidambar was given by Monardes in the sixteenth century as the name of the resin obtained in Mexico from the American species, now L. styraciflua. L. orientalis was not known botanically until the middle of the last century, when it was grown in Chelsea, Kew, and other botanical gardens from seed brought from the Levant via Paris. It forms forests near Budrum, Melasso, Moughla, Marmorizza and a few places near, but does not appear to be found wild in any other district. The genus Liquidambar is very similar to that of Platanus, and this species to L. styraciflua.

Styrax officinale has been proved to be the source of the solid Storax of the Ancients, which was always scarce and valuable, and is now never found in commerce, though it is probable that the cultivated S. officinale of Europe is capable of yielding Storax. Storax appears to be a pathological rather than a physiological product; when the young wood is injured, oil-ducts are formed in which the Storax is produced. Its extraction is chiefly carried on by a tribe of wandering Turcomans called Yuruks. The outer bark of the tree is removed, the inner bark is stripped off and thrown into pits until a sufficient quantity has been collected. It is then packed in strong, horse-hair bags and pressed in a wooden press. After removal, hot water is thrown on the bags, which are pressed a second time, when the greater part of the balsam will be extracted. Another account says that the bark is first boiled in water in a large copper over a brick fire, by which process the balsam is separated, and can then be skimmed off. The boiled bark is then put into bags over which hot water is thrown, and submitted to pressure as described above, by which an additional quantity of balsam (Yagh, or oil) is obtained. In either mode of procedure the product is the semi-liquid, opaque substance called Liquid Storax. This is chiefly forwarded in barrels to Constantinople, Smyrna, Syria and Alexandria; some to Smyrna, in goat-skins, with a certain proportion of water; thence it is forwarded to Trieste in barrels. Much goes to Bombay for India and China, but little comes to the United States or Britain. Liquid Storax is known in the East as Rosemalloes or Rosemalles. The residual bark left after the extraction of the balsam constitutes the fragrant, leaf-like cakes known as Cortex Thymiamatis, Cortex Thuris and Storax Bark.

The quality of Storax now on the market appears to be much inferior to that of a few years ago, and is usually much adulterated. As imported, Liquid Storax is a soft, viscid, opaque substance, about the consistence of honey, of a greyish-brown colour, and containing a variable quantity of water, which, after it has been allowed to stand for a time, floats on the surface. It has an agreeable, balsamic odour, though, when fresh, this is a little contaminated by naphthalin or bitumen. Its taste is burning, pungent, and aromatic.

The Prepared Storax is obtained from Liquid Storax by means of rectified spirit and straining. It is then described officially as 'a semi-transparent, brownish-yellow, semifluid balsam, of the consistence of thick honey, agreeable fragrance, and aromatic, bland taste.' The odour is slightly less agreeable than that of the balsam of Peru. It is imported in jars holding 14 lb. each.

Constituents: The most abundant constituent of Storax is Storesin, in two forms,called alpha and beta, both free and in the form of a cinnamic ester. It is an amorphous substance, melting at 168 degrees C. (334.4 degrees F.), and readily soluble in petroleum benzin. Cinnamic esters of phenylprophyl, of ethyl, of benzyl, and especially cinnamate of cinnamyl, the so-called Styrasin, have also been observed. The yield of cinnamic acid varies from 6 to 12 per cent, or even as much as 23 per cent of crystallized cinnamic acid can be obtained.

Another analysis gives free cinnamic acid, vanillin, styrol, styracin, cinnamic acid-ethyl ester, cinnamic acid-phenylprophyl ester, and storesinol partly free and partly as cinnamic acid ester.

Crude Storax contains from 1 to 9 per cent of matter insoluble in alcohol, and up to 30 per cent of water. When purified, it is brownish-yellow, viscous, and transparent in thin layers; entirely soluble in alcohol (90 per cent) and in ether. Boiled with solution of potassium chromate and sulphuric acid, it evolves an odour of benzaldehyde. It loses not more than 5 per cent of its weight when heated in a thin layer on a water-bath for one hour.

Owing to the demand for the cinnamic esters of Storax for perfumery purposes, much of the commercial drug has been deprived of these before it is put on the market.

Medicinal Action and Uses: A stimulating expectorant and feeble antiseptic, at present very seldom used except as a constituent of the compound tincture of benzoin. Externally, mixed with 2 or 3 parts of olive oil, it has been found a useful local remedy in scabies. It has the same action as balsams of Tolu and Peru and benzoin. It has been recommended as a remedy in diphtheria, in pulmonic catarrhs, and as a substitute for South American copaiba in gonorrhoea and leucorrhoea. Combined with tallow or lard, it is valuable for many forms of skin disease, such as ringworm, especially in children. The taste and smell of opium is well concealed by the addition of Storax in pills, its fragrance being used frequently also in ointments.

Dosage: 10 to 20 grains.

Adulterations, Substitutes, Allied Balsams: L. styraciflua, or Sweet Gum, the American variety, is sometimes confused because its product, obtained by spontaneous exudation, is often called Liquidambar, as well as Liquid Storax or copalm balsam. It contains cinnamyl cinnamate, with ethyl, benzyl, and other esters of cinnamic acid. Another of its products, obtained by boiling the young branches, has also been confounded with Liquid Storax, which it resembles. It is used in Texas for coughs. A syrup of the bark is used for diarrhoea and dysentery in the Western States.

L. storesin is said to be known also in Eastern markets.

Aromatic resins are also obtained in China from L. Formosana, and in Java and Burma from L. Altingea (Altingia excelsa), where the Storax-like substance varies in colour from white to red.

Styrea reticulata and other species in Brazil have a fragrant secretion similar to benzoin, which is used in churches as frankincense.

The commonest adulterations are sawdust and turpentine.