Opopanax, also known as opobalsam, refers to a number of gum resins (natural substances that are a mixture of water-soluble gums and alcohol-soluble resins) traditionally considered to have medicinal properties. Pliny (Historia Naturalis) and Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) described various kinds with uncertain identifications, which have been distinguished as:
- A species of Centaurea
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Echinophora tenuifolia (Umbelliferae)
- Ferula opopanax, also known as Opopanax chironium (Umbelliferae)
- Fig-leaved cow parsnip, Heracleum panaces (or other species of Heracleum)
In recent times, the main source of commercial opopanax is from species of Commiphora, particularly C. erythraea and C. kataf. (Some sources suggest the entire production is from C. erythraea var. glabrescens, a tree growing in Somalia.) Myrrh is also obtained from Commiphora species.
The name opopanax derives from Anglo-Norman opopanac, from Latin opopanax, from Hellenistic Greek ὀποπάναξ, from Ancient Greek ὀπός "vegetable juice" + πάναξ "panacea" (all healing). Panacea (Gk. πανάκεια) denotes a kind of savory, named for Panakeia, a daughter of Aesculapius.
The OED gives opopanax as the principal spelling, but lists opoponax as a variant spelling recorded from the 19th century.
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.
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.
Opopanax is also known as "perfumed bdellium".
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.
- "panaces", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288
- Dioscorides (1902), Julius Berendes, ed., De materia medica (in German), PharmaWiki.ch
- Royle, J.F. (1847). Materia Medica and Therapeutics: Including the Preparations of the Pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and (of the United States) with Many New Medicines. Lea and Blanchard. p. 405.
- Osbaldeston, Tess Anne (translator) (2000). "3.55 Panakes Herakleion". Dioscorides. Johannesburg: Ibidis Press.
Panances heracleum (from which opopanax is gathered) grows in abundance in Boeotia, and Psophis in Arcadia... The [dried] juice that excels is the most bitter to the taste, inside indeed white and somewhat red, but outside a saffron colour, smooth, fat, brittle, fit for use, melting quickly, and with a strong scent;
- Lumír O. Hanuš et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers 149 (1): 3–23, PMID 16170385
- Burdock, G.A. (2004). Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, Fifth Edition. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1452–1454. ISBN 9781420037876.
- "opopanax". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-12-27. (subscription required)
- "panacēa", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288
- Karl-Georg Fahlbusch et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, pp. 107–108
- Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Bdellium", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 234