If you swear by essential oils, you must have heard of balsam essential oil. But do you know that this essential oil is prepared not from the leaves but from the balsam or the sap of some trees from South, Central, and North America? In their native lands, the balsam of Peru, copaiba, and fir have had many uses in folk medicine, from healing wounds to detoxing the body by functioning as a diuretic. Some of these benefits have been clinically proven – such as, healing wounds, reducing inflammation, treating cancer, fighting infections, curing skin conditions like scabies or acne, and preventing gastric ulcers. The essential oils of these balsams also offer similar benefits, though the efficiency depends on the purity of the oil. Let’s look at these benefits in detail.
3 Types: Balsam Of Peru, Copaiba, And Fir
- Balsam of Peru (also known as tolu balsam) essential oil is obtained from Myroxylon balsamum, a tree native to South and Central America. Because of its mixed aroma of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, it is used to flavor foods and to serve as a perfume base for many cosmetic and toiletry products. Balsam of Peru essential oil has several antioxidants1 that fight free radicals and reduce inflammation. It is also a strong antimicrobial agent. However, this balsam is also a potent allergen.
- Copaiba balsam essential oil is extracted from the trees of the Copaifera family, which are native to South America. The oil has a mild, sweet, and woody smell. It has many health benefits, thanks to organic chemicals called diturpenes and sesquiturpenes in it, and hardly any side effect. The degree of benefits, however, depend on the tree from which the balsam is derived.
- Balsam fir essential oil is obtained from Abies balsamea, which is mostly grown in North America and Canada in cool climates. The tree has its use not just as Christmas tree but also as a source of an anticancer compound called abieslactone. The light, grassy-smelling essential oil is extracted from the fir needles and the twigs.
Here are some amazing benefits of balsam essential oil. Some of these benefits have been supported by clinical research, especially for copaiba balsam. Some of these are based on anecdotal evidences of use in traditional and folk medicine.
10 Benefits Of Balsam Essential Oil
1. Fights Infections
When a tree is wounded, it secretes a sticky liquid to heal and protect itself from fungal or bacterial attacks. This liquid is known as the sap, balsam, or oleoresin and it has medicinal properties. This is why balsamic oils are used as antibacterial and antifungal agents in both traditional and modern medicine.2
You may pour a few drops of these essential oils in a vaporizer and spray your room to disinfect the air.
While both balsam of Peru essential oil and cobaipa balsam oil can prevent the growth of mosquitoes and fleas, protecting you from insect-borne illnesses,3 4 balsam fir essential oil is effective against Staphylococcus auerus, a bacteria that causes numerous infections like pneumonia and bone and joint infections.5
2. Can Cure Scabies
As far back as 1907, balsam of Peru was used to treat scabies caused by mites, which mostly affected soldiers. The balsam, mixed with glycerine, was applied topically on the scabies and could reduce the itching, sometimes within a day. This was because the oil could kill off the parent mite within a few hours.6 Traditional medicine also holds that it is good for sore, cracked nipples, chilblains, and hemorrhoids. Even now, balsam of Peru is used in topical medicines for scabies, diaper rash, rashes in folds of the skin, eczema, anal itching, and hemorrhoid suppositories.
However, the chances of this balsamic essential oil causing skin allergies is considerably high. So don’t apply it without asking your doctor first or without doing a 24-hour patch test.
Copaiba balsam essential oil is safer to use in this regard as it has an antimicrobial effect but does not trigger allergies.
3. Can Heal Wounds Faster
The American Indians in Central and South America used to apply copaiba balsam to the navels of newborns and on battle wounds of warriors. This use probably originated when they found that wounded animals rubbed their bodies against copaiba trees.7
True to its traditional use, copaiba balsam could hasten healing in an experiment on lab rats. By day 9, rats with open wounds that had been given the copaiba balsam treatment showed 84% wound contraction compared to the 51% in the control group.
Clean the wound and apply copaiba essential oil directly to it.
In case of incisions or surgical wounds, the tensile strength of the wound – that is its ability to withstand any external load – became double by day 5 in rats treated with copaiba balsam.8 The wound-healing property is probably due to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents in the balsam.
4. Can Heal Skin Conditions
Copaiba balsam essential oil has been proved to be immensely beneficial for people with skin problems. Applying the oil on your skin gets rid of blisters, marks, and pimples – particularly when you’re prone to acne.9
Apply a few drops directly on the acne.
As one study found, copaiba balsam oil can also reduce the redness, skin thickness, and scaliness associated with psoriasis by inhibiting the production of inflammation-causing immune agents in the body.10
It also speeds healing and makes scars on your skin less visible. Not just that, copaiba balsam essential oil also has antioxidants that eliminate free radicals and hence reduce wrinkles, making your skin look younger. Some even suggest that it can fade stretch marks and treat varicose veins.
5. Can Treat Gastric Ulcers
In Brazil, copaiba balsam enjoys a place of pride. It is considered a potent remedy for gastric problems. Indeed, a study has found that the balsam from the Copaifera langsdorffii tree could prevent gastric damage in rats caused by ethanol (a constituent of all alcohols) and artificially induced stress. It could even cure lesions in the stomach caused by a medicine’s side effects.
In some other rats with an impaired digestive system, it could also reduce total stomach acidity without hindering digestion.11 Copaiba balsam shows a protective effect even in cases of colitis.12
6. Reduces Chronic Pain And Inflammation
Copaiba balsam essential oil can be applied topically when you have severe pain in your joints. The oil is anti-inflammatory and has a therapeutic effect on inflammation and pain, even in chronic illnesses like arthritis and rheumatism.13 It may even help with headaches and fibromyalgia.
The credit goes to an organic compund called beta-caryophyllene. It helps heal inflammation, pain, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.14
7. Can Cure Cough And Congestion
Traditionally, balsam has been used in reducing chest congestion and relieving mucous, and today, balsam of Peru is used in cough syrups, expectorants, and inhalants.
Pour a few drops of copaiba or balsam fir essential oil in steaming water for steam inhalation.
An 1839 journal of medicine in London records the “excellent effects” of copaiba balsam in chronic bronchitis.15 Both copaiba balsam and fir balsam are said to dilute the mucous and help expel it.
8. Can Treat Urinary Infections And Gonorrhea
Traditional use of copaiba balsam also includes treatment of bladder infections, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence (bedwetting), and gonorrhea. Apparently, in 1859, Great Britain imported 151,000 pounds of copaiba balsam mostly to treat gonorrhea! Copaiba balsam oil was supposed to be orally taken 3 times a day. It could stop the thick genital discharge, but when taken alone, it also irritated the stomach.16 17
9. Can Treat Anxiety And Depression
Like most essential oils, balsam essential oil has a therapeutic effect on anxiety and depression. Copaiba balsam has been seen to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in animal studies without affecting their general activities. Higher doses brought better results. This effect is possibly brought about by beta-caryophyllene.18 19 It’s best to diffuse the aroma of these oils using a vaporizer.
10. Can Control Some Tumors And Cancer
Balsam fir essential oil contains a phytochemical (plant chemical) known as abieslactone, which controls the growth of certain tumor and cancer cell lines like liver and breast cancer.20 21 It also has a chemical called alpha-humulene, which is toxic to tumor cells.
In one study, having copaiba balsam reduced tumor growth by 58% and tumor size by 76% in mice with skin cancer. The cancer had also spread to the lungs, resulting in lung nodules. But copaiba balsam could reduce these by 47%.22
But when used in a higher dose in another experiment, it seemed to stimulate cancer growth in lab rats with uterine and cervical cancer.23 More research is required to determine the correct dosage.
Balsam of Peru has a reputation as an allergen, especially in babies and young children. When it comes in contact with the skin, it can trigger in the form of red flare-ups on the skin. This form of allergy is known as contact dermatitis.24 So, it’s best to keep your kids away from the oil and do a patch test for yourself after consulting with your doctor. Avoid the oil if your skin is prone to inflammations.
Balsam fir and copaiba balsam, however, are not known to cause such reactions. But to remain on the safe side, do a patch test anyway.
|↑1||De Oliveira, Alaíde B., M. Iracema, L. M. Madruga, and Otto R. Gottlieb. “Isoflavonoids from Myroxylon balsamum.” Phytochemistry 17, no. 3 (1978): 593-595.|
|↑2, ↑10||Gelmini, Fabrizio, Giangiacomo Beretta, Cecilia Anselmi, Marisanna Centini, Paolo Magni, Massimiliano Ruscica, Alberto Cavalchini, and Roberto Maffei Facino. “GC–MS profiling of the phytochemical constituents of the oleoresin from Copaifera langsdorffii Desf. and a preliminary in vivo evaluation of its antipsoriatic effect.” International journal of pharmaceutics 440, no. 2 (2013): 170-178.|
|↑3||Seo, Seon-Mi, Hye-Mi Park, and Il-Kwon Park. “Larvicidal activity of ajowan (Trachyspermum ammi) and Peru balsam (Myroxylon pereira) oils and blends of their constituents against mosquito, Aedes aegypti, acute toxicity on water flea, Daphnia magna, and aqueous residue.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 60, no. 23 (2012): 5909-5914.|
|↑4||Leandro, Lidiam Maia, Fabiano de Sousa Vargas, Paula Cristina Souza Barbosa, Jamilly Kelly Oliveira Neves, José Alexsandro da Silva, and Valdir Florêncio da Veiga-Junior. “Chemistry and biological activities of terpenoids from copaiba (Copaifera spp.) oleoresins.” Molecules 17, no. 4 (2012): 3866-3889.|
|↑5||Pichette, André, Pierre‐Luc Larouche, Maxime Lebrun, and Jean Legault. “Composition and antibacterial activity of Abies balsamea essential oil.” Phytotherapy Research 20, no. 5 (2006): 371-373.|
|↑6||Porter, F. J. W. “The Treatment of Scabies by Balsam of Peru.” Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps 8, no. 2 (1907): 221-222.|
|↑7, ↑9||Da Silva, Ary Gomes, Paula de Freitas Puziol, Roane Nunes Leitao, Tatiana Rafaela Gomes, Rodrigo Scherer, Monica Lacerda Lopes Martins, S. S. Cavalcanti, A. S. S. Cavalcanti, and L. C. Cavalcanti. “Application of the essential oil from copaiba (Copaifera langsdorffii Desf.) for Acne vulgaris: A double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial.” Altern. Med. Rev 17 (2012): 69-75.|
|↑8||Paiva, L. A. F., K. M. de Alencar Cunha, F. A. Santos, N. V. Gramosa, E. R. Silveira, and V. S. N. Rao. “Investigation on the wound healing activity of oleo‐resin from Copaifera langsdorffi in rats.” Phytotherapy Research 16, no. 8 (2002): 737-739.|
|↑11||Paiva, L. A. F., V. S. N. Rao, N. V. Gramosa, and E. R. Silveira. “Gastroprotective effect of Copaifera langsdorffii oleo-resin on experimental gastric ulcer models in rats.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 62, no. 1 (1998): 73-78.|
|↑12||Paiva, L. A. F., L. A. Gurgel, E. T. De Sousa, E. R. Silveira, R. M. Silva, F. A. Santos, and V. S. N. Rao. “Protective effect of Copaifera langsdorffii oleo-resin against acetic acid-induced colitis in rats.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 93, no. 1 (2004): 51-56.|
|↑13||Carvalho, J. C. T., V. Cascon, L. S. Possebon, M. S. S. Morimoto, L. G. V. Cardoso, M. A. C. Kaplan, and B. Gilbert. “Topical antiinflammatory and analgesic activities of Copaifera duckei Dwyer.” Phytotherapy Research 19, no. 11 (2005): 946-950.|
|↑14||Gertsch, Jürg, Marco Leonti, Stefan Raduner, Ildiko Racz, Jian-Zhong Chen, Xiang-Qun Xie, Karl-Heinz Altmann, Meliha Karsak, and Andreas Zimmer. “Beta-caryophyllene is a dietary cannabinoid.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, no. 26 (2008): 9099-9104.|
|↑15||Johnson, James and Henry James Johnson. The Medico-chirurgical Review and Journal of Medical Science, Volume 35. Burgess and Hill, 1839, p. 226–227.|
|↑16||Benedeck Thomas, History of the Medical Treatment of Gonorrhea. Antimicrobe.org.|
|↑17||Unemo, Magnus, and William M. Shafer. “Antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the 21st century: past, evolution, and future.” Clinical microbiology reviews 27, no. 3 (2014): 587-613.|
|↑18||Curio, Mateus, Hellena Jacone, Jaime Perrut, Âengelo C. Pinto, F. Veiga Valdir Filho, and Regina CB Silva. “Acute effect of Copaifera reticulata Ducke copaiba oil in rats tested in the elevated plus‐maze: an ethological analysis.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 61, no. 8 (2009): 1105-1110.|
|↑19||Bahi, Amine, Shamma Al Mansouri, Elyazia Al Memari, Mouza Al Ameri, Syed M. Nurulain, and Shreesh Ojha. “β-Caryophyllene, a CB 2 receptor agonist produces multiple behavioral changes relevant to anxiety and depression in mice.” Physiology & behavior 135 (2014): 119-124.|
|↑20||Wang, Guo-Wei, Chao Lv, Zhi-Ran Shi, Ren-Tao Zeng, Xue-Yun Dong, Wei-Dong Zhang, Run-Hui Liu, Lei Shan, and Yun-Heng Shen. “Abieslactone induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinomas through the mitochondrial pathway and the generation of reactive oxygen species.” PloS one 9, no. 12 (2014): e115151.|
|↑21||Legault, Jean, Wivecke Dahl, Eric Debiton, André Pichette, and Jean-Claude Madelmont. “Antitumor activity of balsam fir oil: production of reactive oxygen species induced by α-humulene as possible mechanism of action.” Planta medica 69, no. 05 (2003): 402-407.|
|↑22, ↑23||Lima, Sylvia RM, Valdir F. Veiga Junior, Herick B. Christo, Angelo C. Pinto, and Patricia D. Fernandes. “In vivo and in vitro studies on the anticancer activity of Copaifera multijuga Hayne and its fractions.” Phytotherapy Research 17, no. 9 (2003): 1048-1053.|
|↑24||Rietschel, Robert L., Joseph F. Fowler, and Alexander A. Fisher. Fisher’s contact dermatitis. PMPH-USA, 2008, p. 175|