Peruvian Balsam (Myroxylon Pereirae Syn. M. Balsamum) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Peruvian Balsam (Myroxylon Pereirae Syn. M. Balsamum) Overview
Peruvian Balsam (Myroxylon Pereirae Syn. M. Balsamum) other names: Balsam, Balsam of Peru, Balsam Peru, Bálsamo del Perú, Balsamum Peruvianum, Baume du Pérou, Baume Péruvien, Baume de San Salvador, Black Balsam, Indian Balsam, Myrospermum pereirae, Myroxylon balsamum var. pereirae, Myroxylon pereirae, Peruvian Balsam, Toluifera pereirae.
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Peruvian balsam is an evergreen tree that grows up to a height of 50 feet (15 meters). The bark of Peruvian balsam (botanical name, Myroxylon pereirae belonging to genus Myroxylon) is gray and it bears compound leaves that are speckled with oil glands. Peruvian balsam, a member of the ‘bean' family, produces white flowers similar to those of the pea and the seed pods have a yellow hue.
As the name of the plant suggests, peruvian balsam is native to South and Central America, especially Panama, Mexico and Jamaica, and it grows naturally in the tropical forests. Presently, this plant is also cultivated in several countries in South and Central America, western Africa, India and Sri Lanka. The species bears fragrant white flowers, while its leaves are evergreen, denoting that the trees have leaves all through the year. Peruvian balsam exudes a dense, fragrant and reddish-brown resin or gum from the bruised bark of its trunk. The gum or balsam is collected, made softer and distilled by means of a process that includes thawing and boiling. Freshly collected resin of the tree has a potent aroma that is similar to that of benzoin or vanilla.
While Peruvian balsam prospers mainly in El Salvador, in the area along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean known as the Balsam Coast, this magnificent species is generally known as the balsam of Peru. In effect, the confusing geographical name to the species was given way back in 16th century, as the Spanish shipped the dense resin (balsam) of the tree from the ports in Peru to Europe. Presently, Peruvian balsam is found growing in wild all over most regions of Central America, in the southern regions of Mexico as well as in areas of northern South America.
Peruvian balsam may be grown without any difficulty from its seeds or cuttings. This species is occasionally cultivated in places having tropical climatic conditions in the form of a shade tree and is frequently grown on coffee plantations for shade. On an average, Peruvian balsam grows up to a height of 50 to 65 feet, but sometimes it also grows much higher. The evergreen leaves of the tree are divided into shiny, oblong-shaped or oval leaflets, each measuring about two inches to 3.5 inches in length. Each leaflet of the tree is sprinkled with tiny, transparent specks.
However, the commercial value of Peruvian balsam is not owing to its leaves, flowers or magnificence. On the contrary, it is the balsam or mastic - the dense, pleasantly aromatic resin (in effect, when fresh its smell resembles cinnamon and vanilla when mature) exuded by the trunk of the tree, which people have sought after for several centuries. Native Indians inhabiting Central and South America, counting the powerful Incas who ruled over Peru, were aware that the balsam or resin was useful in stopping haemorrhages as well as healing wounds, cuts and burns. In addition, members of the Incas tribe also employed the leaves of Peruvian balsam in the form of a diuretic as well as to force out parasitic worms from the body. Early settlers from Spain came to learn about the therapeutic properties of Peruvian balsam from the Native American Indians and were quick to identify the tree as a potentially profitable item of trade and, hence, started shipping the trees home.
Presently, the commerce in balsam is robust. The resin is used as an active ingredient in several fungicidal and antiseptic balms that are used to treat various skin ailments or complaints like scabies (an itching attributed to parasitic mites) and ringworms (a fungal contagion). The resin forms an important component in dental cements as well as in suppositories that are commercially available in the United States to ease itching caused by hemorrhoids. In addition, Peruvian balsam is also used to add essence to cough drops as well as to scent toiletry items.
It is believed that the Peruvian balsam has been named so since the balsam or resin of the tree was initially shipped from Callao in Peru to Spain; and since then, balsam as well as the essential oils enclosed by it have been employed to add essence to soft drinks, foods, and chewing gum. Even since the period when the Incas ruled over Peru, Peruvians have employed balsam to ease fevers, bronchitis, colds and coughs as well as to treat inflammation of the pharynx and mouth and any propensity to develop infections.
Even the Aztecs, an ancient ethnic group in Mexico, cultivated Peruvian balsam in the gardens of their royals and prepared compresses using the pounded leaves of the tree to accelerate healing of wounds. The clergy in Spain also valued the sap or resin exuded from the bark of Peruvian balsam and used it in ceremonial lotions.
Peruvian Balsam (Myroxylon Pereirae Syn. M. Balsamum) Health Benefits
Peruvian balsam is an herb. The oily sap from the bark is used to make medicine.
Don’t confuse peruvian balsam with tolu balsam, which is the oily sap from the stems of Myroxylon balsamum.
Despite serious safety concerns, people take peruvian balsam to treat cancer, increase urine production (as a diuretic), and expel intestinal worms.
Peruvian balsam possesses potent antiseptic properties and fuels restoring the harmed tissues. While internal use of this herbal medication is not advised generally, it is sometimes taken internally in the form of an expectorant as well as a decongestant to cure bronchitis, emphysema and bronchial asthma. In addition, it is also used internally for treating aching throats as well as diarrhea. Topically, Peruvian balsam is applied to skin disorders as well as wounds, burn injuries, hemorrhoids and in curing eczema as well as scabies and itching. Peruvian balsam is especially effective in treating infected and sluggishly healing wounds, burn injuries, frostbite, decubitus ulcers (bedsores), leg ulcers and bruises. As mentioned earlier, Peruvian balsam is a potent antiseptic and promotes the restoration of harmed tissues.
The concentrated oil extracted from Peruvian balsam possesses anti-fungal and anti-bacterial attributes and is used in the form of an expectorant (to draw out phlegm) in aromatherapy. This oil is also employed to cure infections of the respiratory tract. Peruvian balsam has a long history of being used in the form of salve to treat headaches, toothaches as well as rheumatic symptoms. It is also used to stop bleeding from uterus and umbilical veins.
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Peruvian balsam is also used to prepare homeopathic remedies, especially those that are used to treat persistent inflammations of the mucous membrane of the urinary organs and the respiratory tract. People in Guatemala, use Peruvian balsam to cure skin itching. However, this herbal remedy is known to aggravate irritation in sensitive skin. In addition, Guatemalans employ the dehydrated Peruvian balsam fruits in the form of a decoction following child birth. Peruvian balsam is very popular among the Mexicans who use this herb to treat catarrh, asthma as well as rheumatism.
People inhabiting the island of Chira, off Costa Rica, employ the resin exuded by the bark of Peruvian balsam to cure toothaches. They apply the resin to the cheeks for this purpose. In addition, the resin is also available commercially in the form of tablets and capsules.
In dentistry, peruvian balsam is included in products used for treating “dry socket,” a painful condition that sometimes follows tooth removal. Dry socket occurs when the clot that forms in the gum after tooth extraction comes out too early, exposing the tender gum to the air. Peruvian balsam is also used in toothpaste and toothpowder.
In manufacturing, peruvian balsam is added to perfumes, soaps, and cosmetics as a fragrance. It also helps to keep perfume from evaporating too fast.
In food, it is used as a flavoring.
Peruvian Balsam (Myroxylon Pereirae Syn. M. Balsamum) Side effects
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Although peruvian balsam is effective in treating a number of health conditions, people using herbal preparations with this plant ought to be cautious regarding its side effects.
It is unsafe to take peruvian balsam by mouth because it can damage the kidneys.
It seems to be safe to apply peruvian balsam to the skin over a short period of time (less than one week). However, peruvian balsam can cause allergic skin reactions. Peruvian balsam can also cause skin to become extra sensitive to the sun. Wear sunblock outside, especially if you are light-skinned.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of peruvian balsam during pregnancy. Stay on the safe side and avoid use. It might be unsafe to apply peruvian balsam to the skin during breast-feeding. If it gets on the nipple, the nursing infant might be poisoned.