Balsam of Tolu

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Balsam of Tolu

Botanical Name: Myrospermum Toluiferum
Family: N.O. Leguminosae

Synonyms: Balsamum Tolutanum. Tolutanischer Balsam. Balsamum Americanum.
Part Used: Exudation.

History: There is still some obscurity about the origin of the different South American balsam-yielding trees. The appearance of the above variety is said to differ but slightly from the Peruvian, but the method of gathering the balsam is quite different. V-shaped cuts are made in the tree, and the liquid is received into calabash cups placed at an angle; these are emptied into flasks of raw hide, conveyed by donkeys to the depôts, and finally shipped in tin or earthen vessels, which occasionally contain large pieces of red brick. On arrival the balsam is soft and sticky, but exposure to the air makes it hard and brittle, more like resin, with a crystalline appearance. In colour it is pale, yellowish red or brown. It has a sweet, aromatic, resinous taste - becoming soft again when chewed - with an odour resembling vanilla or benzoin, especially fragrant when the balsam is burned, but completely changing and resembling the clove-pink if dissolved in a minute portion of liquor potassa.

As the balsam solidifies, its odour becomes more feeble, but the quantity of cinnamic acid increases, and it thus becomes valuable to perfumers as a fixative, an ounce added to a pound of volatile perfume making it much more permanent.

Tolu Balsam is frequently adulterated with turpentines, styrax, colophony, etc., and may be tested by heating it in sulphuric acid. If pure, it will yield a cherry-red liquid, and will dissolve without any appearance of sulphurous acid.

Constituents: About 80 per cent amorphous resin, with cinnamic acid, a volatile oil, and a little vanillin, benzyl benzoate and benzyl cinnamate. It is freely soluble in chloroform, glacial acetic acid, acetone, ether, alcohol and liquor potassa, scarcely soluble in petroleum-benzine and benzol.

To distinguish it from Balsam of Peru it can be tested with sulphuric acid and water, yielding a grey mass instead of the lovely violet colour of the genuine Peruvian Balsam.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Stimulant and expectorant, much used as the basis of cough mixtures. The vapour from the balsam dissolved in ether when inhaled, is beneficial in chronic catarrh and other noninflammatory chest complaints. The best form is that of an emulsion, made by titurating the balsam with mucilage and loaf sugar, and adding water.

Two parts of Tolu, 3 of Almond oil, 4 of gum-arabic, and 16 of Rose-water, make an excellent liniment for excoriated nipples.

Preparations: Tincture, B.P. and U.S.P., 1/2 to 1 drachm. Syrup, B.P. and U.S.P., 1/2 to 1 drachm. Lozenges, incense and pastilles are also prepared.