Styrax balsam

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For the Storax tree, see Styrax.
A petri dish of styrax

Styrax (storax) balsam is a recent natural resin isolated from the wounded bark of Liquidambar orientalis Mill. (Asia Minor) and Liquidambar styraciflua L. (Central America) (Hamamelidaceae).[1] It is often called benzoic resin, a similar resin obtained from the Styracaceae plant family.


Purified storax contains circa 33 to 50% storesin, an alcoholic resin, both free and as cinnamic esters. Contains 5 to 15% cinnamic acid, 5 to 15% cinnamyl cinnamate, circa 10% phenylpropyl cinnamate; small amounts of ethyl cinnamate, benzyl cinnamate, and styrene, Some may contain traces of vanillin. Some sources report a resin containing triterpenic acids (oleanolic and 3-epioleanolic acids).[2]


Styrax has a pleasant, sweet, balsamic, slightly spicy odor. Storax and its derivatives (resinoid, essential oil, absolute) are used as flavors, fragrances, and in pharmaceuticals (Friar's Balsam).[1][3][4]

American styrax resin (Liquidambar styraciflua) is chewed like gum to freshen breath and clean teeth.[5]


Mnesimachus, Aristotle, Theophrastus (Historia Plantarum), Herodotus, and Strabo are the first ones to mention the styrax tree and its balsam. In ancient Greece, styrax also denoted the spike at the lower end of a spearshaft.[6]

Pliny (Historia Naturalis 12.98, 15.26; 24.24) notes the use of styrax as a perfume, while Scribonius Largus drank wine flavored with styrax.[7] Ciris mentions storax as a fragrant hair dye.[8] Dioscorides (De materia medica 1.79) reports its use as incense, similar to frankincense, having expectorant and soothing properties.[9]

The 10th century Arab historian al-Masudi listed storax gum (mayʿa) as a spice in his book Murūdj al-dhahab (Meadows of Gold).[10]

Chao Ju-Kuan, a 13th century trade commissioner in Fukien province, described liquid storax gum as a product of the Somali (Po-pa-li) coast.[11]

Linnaeus, who determined the scientific names of plants, thought that storax was extracted from the tree called in modern Hebrew livneh refu'i which he termed Styrax officinalis. However in the light of tests made in Israel it is very doubtful if a sap with medicinal or aromatic qualities can be extracted from this tree. The storax of the ancients was probably extracted from a different tree, seemingly from the Liquidambar orientalis which grows wild in northern Syria and may even have been grown in Israel; from it is extracted an aromatic sap with healing qualities called storax liquidis. This may possibly be the biblical balm, though other sources conclude that the biblical balm is Balsam (opobalsamum).[12]

Styrax benzoin is a more humid Asian species, reported from India, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Java, Sumatra, and Malaysia. Thus, this species historically would have needed to be imported from outside Israel.[5]

In the nineteenth century, styrene was isolated by distillation of storax balsam.[13]

In North Africa, for mystical purposes, women burn benzoin and styrax in potsherds.[14]


Storax resin is "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS), but at low levels, for example, circa 15 ppm in candy and 25 ppm in baked goods.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Karl-Georg Fahlbusch; et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 115 
  2. ^ a b James A. Duke (2008), "Storax (Liquidambar orientalis Mill. and L., Styraciflua L.)", Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible, Taylor & Francis, pp. 258–259 
  3. ^ George A. Burdock (2010), "Styrax", Fenaroli's Handbook of Flavor Ingredients (6th ed.), Taylor & Francis, pp. 1853–1854 
  4. ^ "Compound Benzoin Tincture", British Pharmacopoeia, 3, 2009 
  5. ^ a b James A. Duke (2008), "Benzoin (Styrax benzoin Dryander.)", Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible, Taylor & Francis, p. 445 
  6. ^ Henry George Liddell; Robert Scott, eds. (1897), "στύραξ", Greek-English Lexicon (8th ed.), Harper & Brothers, p. 1442 
  7. ^ "styrax", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1832 
  8. ^ "storax", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1825 
  9. ^ Dioscorides (1902), "Styrax", in Julius Berendes, De materia medica (PDF),, p. 89 
  10. ^ A. Dietrich (2004), "AFĀWĪH", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 12 (supplement) (2nd ed.), Brill, pp. 42–43 
  11. ^ E. Cerulli; M. Orwin; G. S. P. Freeman-Greenville (1997), "SOMALI", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 9 (2nd ed.), Brill, pp. 713–727 
  12. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Storax", Encyclopaedia Judaica, 19 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 238 
  13. ^ Denis H. James; William M. Castor (2007), "Styrene", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, p. 1 
  14. ^ D. S. Margoliouth (1997), "ḲĀDIRIYYA", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 4 (2nd ed.), Brill, pp. 380–383