|Myroxylon balsamum from Koehler's Medicinal-Plants (1887)|
Myroxylon, also known as Balsam of Peru, is a genus of tree grown in Central America (primarily in El Salvador) and South America. It is in the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family of flowering plants. The tree is well known in the western world as the source for Peru balsam and Tolu balsam. The tree is often called Quina or Balsamo. Other names include Tolu in Colombia, Quina quina in Argentina, and in the lumber trade it is sometimes named Santos Mahogany.
Balsam of Peru is used as a flavoring and fragrance in many products, and its sweet scent, reminiscent of vanilla and green olives, has also led to it being used in the manufacture of perfumes. It can cause allergic reactions.
The trees are large, growing to 40 metres (130 ft) tall, with evergreen pinnate leaves 15 centimetres (5.9 in) long, with 5–13 leaflets. The flowers are white with yellow stamens, produced in racemes. The fruit is a pod 7–11 centimetres (2.8–4.3 in) long, containing a single seed.
As regards woodworking, the tree is moderately difficult to work but can be finished with a high natural polish; it tends to cause some tool dulling.
Balsam of Peru
Balsam of Peru is an aromatic viscous resin obtained by scorching or inflicting wounds on the bark of the trunk of the tree Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. pereirae (Royle) Harms. Tolu balsam is obtained from the trunk of Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. balsamum. In response, the Balsam of Peru oily, resin-like, aromatic fluid exudes, to heal the tree's lesions. An essential oil is also distilled from the balsam.
The balsam was collected and shipped to Europe from the ports of Callao and Lima, in Peru. The indigenous use of Peru Balsam led to its export to Europe in the seventeenth century, where it was first documented in the German Pharmacopedia. Today El Salvador is the main exporter of Peru Balsam where it is extracted under a plainly handicraft process.
Balsam of Peru smells of vanilla and cinnamon because it contains – among its 25 or so different substances – cinnamein, cinnamic acid, cinnamyl cinnamate, benzyl benzoate, benzoic acid, and vanillin. It also contains cinnamic acid alcohol and aldehyde, farnesol and nerolidol. The other 30–40% contains resins or esters of unknown composition. It also contains essential oils similar to those in citrus fruit peel. These are all potential allergens.
Balsam of Peru is used in food and drink for flavoring, in perfumes and toiletries for fragrance, and in medicine and pharmaceutical items for healing properties. It has aromatic and fixative (i.e., delays evaporation) properties, and mild antiseptic, antifungal, and antiparasitic attributes.
It has three primary uses:
- •flavoring in food and drink, such as coffee, flavored tea, wine, beer, gin, liqueurs, soft drinks including cola, aperitifs (e.g., vermouth, bitters), juice, citrus, citrus fruit peel, marmalade, tomatoes and tomato-containing products, pickles, pickled vegetables, spices ( e.g., cloves, Jamaica pepper (allspice), cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, curry, anise, and ginger), chili sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, chutney, Mexican and Italian foods with red sauces, chocolate, vanilla, baked goods and pastries, pudding, ice cream, chewing gum, and candy;
- •fragrance in perfumes and toiletries, such as perfumes, colognes, deodorants, soaps, shampoos and conditioners, after-shave lotions, cosmetics, creams, lotions, ointments, baby powders, sunscreens, and suntan lotions; and
- •healing properties in medicinal products, such as hemorrhoid suppositories and ointment (e.g., Anusol), cough medicine/suppressant and lozenges, diaper rash ointments, oral and lip ointments, tincture of benzoin, wound spray (the plants have been reported to inhibit Mycobacterium tuberculosis as well as the common ulcer-causing bacteria, H. pylori in test-tube studies), calamine lotion, baby powder, and surgical dressings, dental cement, eugenol used by dentists, some periodontal impression materials, and in the treatment of dry socket in dentistry.
Balsam of Peru allergy
A number of national and international surveys have identified Balsam of Peru as being in the "top five" allergens most commonly causing patch test reactions in people referred to dermatology clinics. A study in 2001 found that 3.8% of the general population patch tested was allergic to it. Many flavorings and perfumes contain components identical to Balsam of Peru. It may cause redness, swelling, itching, and blisters.
People allergic to Balsam of Peru, or other chemically related substances, may experience typical allergic contact dermatitis reactions to it. If they have oral exposure, they may experience stomatitis (inflammation and soreness of the mouth or tongue), and cheilitis (inflammation, rash, or painful erosion of the lips, oropharyngeal mucosa, or angles of their mouth). If they ingest it, they may experience pruritis and contact dermatitis in the perianal region, possibly due to unabsorbed substances in the feces. If they use or consume products containing Balsam of Peru or related allergens, they may experience a flare-up of hand eczema. Among the other allergic reactions to Balsam of Peru are generalized or resistant plantar dermatitis, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis,  In a case study in Switzerland, a woman who was allergic to Balsam of Peru was allergic to her boyfriend's semen following intercourse, after he drank large amounts of Coca Cola.
Patch testing using 25% Balsam of Peru in petrolatum is used to confirm the allergy. A Balsam of Peru and Fragrance Mix (a mixture of 8 commonly used individual fragrances) is usually used. A positive result to Balsam of Peru presents in 50% of fragrance allergy cases. Positive patch test results also indicate that the person may have problems with certain flavorings, medications, and perfumed products. Among foods, the most commonly implicated were spices, citrus, and tomatoes.
People allergic to Balsam of Peru may benefit from a diet in which they avoid ingesting foods that contain it.
Before 1977, the main recommended marker for perfume allergy was Balsam of Peru, which is still advised. The presence of Balsam of Peru in a cosmetic will be denoted by the INCI term Myroxylon pereirae.
Because of allergic reactions, since 1982 crude Balsam of Peru has been banned by the International Fragrance Association from use as a fragrance compound, but extracts and distillates are used up to a maximum level of 0.4% in products, and are not covered by mandatory labelling.
The balsam tree can become a highly invasive species when introduced into tropical countries where it is not native. In Sri Lanka, it has overgrown several hectares of the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary and is rapidly spreading there. In this Sri Lankan rain forest, Myroxylon seeds sprout in very high numbers due to tolerating more diverse light conditions than native species and due to the absence of natural enemies such as diseases and insects. This has given rise to dense stands of young trees where no other vegetation can grow, causing severe ecological disruption, i.e., the disappearance of local, native plant species and consequently of the animals and insects that feed on these.
Among the alternative names used for Balsam of Peru are: Balsamum peruvianim, Black balsam, China oil, Honduras balsam, Indian balsam, Peruvian balsam, Surinam balsam, Balsams Peru, Balsam Peru oil, Oil balsam peru, Peru balsam, Peru balsam oil, Myroxylon pereirae klotzsch resin, Myroxylon pereirae klotzsch oil, Myrosperum pereira balsam, balsam fir oleoresin, balsam fir oil, hyperabsolute balsam, and Toluifera Pereira balsam.
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