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For the plant genus, see Opopanax (genus).

Opopanax (also: Opoponax) refers to a number of gum resins with medicinal properties. Historically, opopanax is a gum obtained from the plant Panax.[1] Pliny (Historia Naturalis) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) described various kinds with uncertain identifications, which have been distinguished as:[2][3]

Perfumery opopanax[edit]

In perfumery, opopanax refers to the resin obtained from Commiphora erythraea Engl. var. glabrescens Engl., a tree growing in Somalia. A resinoid is prepared from the resin by solvent extraction. Steam distillation of the resin gives the essential oil, which has a warm, sweet, balsamic odor. Opopanax oil and resinoid are used in perfumes with oriental characteristics. An IFRA recommendation exists.[4]

African opopanax is the resin of Commiphora kataf (Forssk.) Engl.[5]

Opopanax, a major export article from Somalia since ancient times, is also known as bisabol - bissa bol (Hindi) and as hebbakhade - habak hadi (Somali). "bissa bol" is scented myrrh, in contrast to "heera bol", bitter myrrh. However, the botanical origin of bisabol is Commiphora guidottii and not Commiphora erythraea, as generally has been presumed.[5]


Opopanax is also known as "perfumed bdellium".[5]

Bdellium is a semi-transparent resin extracted from Commiphora roxburgii and from Commiphora africana. Both resins were used as incense. They are referred to by Pliny (Historia Naturalis, 12:36) as Bactrian and Nubian bdellium. The bdellium referred to by Dioscorides as "the bdellium imported from Petra" (De Materia Medica, 1:80) is probably the resin of Hyphaene thebaica, a species of palm.[6]


From Anglo-Norman opopanac, from Latin opopanax, from Hellenistic Greek ὀποπάναξ, from Ancient Greek ὀπός "vegetable juice" + πάναξ "panacea" (all healing).[7] Panacea (Gk. πανάκεια) denotes a kind of savory, named for Panakeia, a daughter of Aesculapius.[8]

The OED gives opopanax as the principal spelling, but lists opoponax as a variant spelling recorded from the 19th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "opopanax", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1254 
  2. ^ "panaces", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288 
  3. ^ Dioscorides (1902), Julius Berendes, ed., De materia medica, PharmaWiki.ch 
  4. ^ Karl-Georg Fahlbusch et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, pp. 107–108 
  5. ^ a b c Lumír O. Hanuš et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers 149 (1): 3–23, PMID 16170385 
  6. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Bdellium", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 234 
  7. ^ "opopanax". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-12-27.  (subscription required)
  8. ^ "panacēa", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288