What Is Tolu Balsam?

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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Tolu balsam is a substance that comes from the myroxylon balsamum tree found in the mountainous regions and high plains of Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela. The balsam contains a resin and volatile oil. It has an aroma of vanilla, cinnamon, and floral notes, and is used as a fragrance in perfumes and incense. The balsam has a slight vanilla taste and has been used as a flavoring in candies, soft drinks, and chewing gum. It also contains medicinal properties and is an ingredient in some drugs.

This substance is named after the Tolues, early people who inhabited the town where it was first used. They lived near the Caribbean in northern Columbia. Since its discovery, the effectiveness of the balsam in treating skin and respiratory conditions has been well established.

Leaves, resin, and fruit of the tolu balsam tree have been used for centuries by the people of Central and South America to treat colds, flu, rheumatism, and asthma. Tribes in the Amazon rainforest have used the balsam to treat abscesses, headaches, bronchitis, sprains, and sores. It has also been used in the treatment of tuberculosis and venereal disease.


The balsam was exported to Europe in the 1600s, where it was used to treat bedsores, ringworm, scabies, lice, and diaper rash. Tolu balsam is still used in Great Britain today to treat chronic skin conditions, asthma, and bronchitis. It has also been used as an antiseptic on wounds. The Japanese took advantage of the antiseptic properties of tolu balsam during World War Two. Since tetanus shots weren't administered to Japanese soldiers, their wounds were treated with tolu balsam to prevent infection.

Tolu balsam is a popular ingredient in the natural products market in the United States. It is used to treat skin parasites, skin rashes, and eczema. The balsam is also used in aromatherapy formulas for tension and stress.

It is also an ingredient in cough syrups and cough drops. Tolu balsam contains expectorant properties that can decrease mucus and suppress coughs. The balsam can ease sore throats, and its vapor can be inhaled to treat respiratory problems.

In order to harvest the tolu balsam resin, a V-shaped incision is carved into the bark of the tree. After the resin dries, it is collected in gourds and transported by donkeys. It is soft and pliable inside the tree, and becomes brittle and hard after it dries due to air exposure. The aroma is at its strongest when it is fresh, then gradually becomes weaker as it dries.


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