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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Making Scents of Information
Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) is not strictly speaking an essential oil but a resinoid, produced from a resin. However, it has some valuable therapeutic properties.
Extraction of Benzoin
Benzoin is derived from a large, tropical tree that is native to tropical Asia; the tree grows to a height of 65 feet and has green citrus-like leaves. It is a member of the Styraceae botanical family. Although it does not botanically belong to the same family as frankincense and myrrh, it has some properties and an aroma that are reminiscent of these oils.
Benzoin is a crude resin that appears in two different forms, depending on the region from which it is derived. Benzoin is either derived from the region that includes Sumatra, Java and Malaysia (Sumatra benzoin) or that which includes Thailand, Vietnam, China and Cambodia (Siam benzoin). Sumatra benzoin appears as gray-brown brittle lumps with red streaks; Siam benzoin appears as tear-shaped orange-brown lumps. An orange-brown viscous resinoid, with a rich balsamic aroma, and sweet undertones, is produced from either type.
Commercial Sale of Benzoin
Benzoin is dissolved in a solvent such as ethyl glycol or wood alcohol before it is sold commercially by suppliers; check with your essential oil supplier how benzoin has been extracted and dissolved before buying to ensure the quality of the oil.
Essential Oil Properties of Benzoin
Benzoin has a number of therapeutic properties; these include use as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, expectorant, sedative and antioxidant. Benzoin is useful in skincare and is used for irritated cracked skin. It is a calming oil which can also be used for depression, stress and anxiety. As benzoin is also a warming oil, it can be used for arthritis, poor circulation, coughs and colds.
A benzoin tincture is often used in pharmaceutical preparations. It is also used by the perfumery and skincare industry as a fixative in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics and other products.
The Usefulness of Benzoin
Patricia Davis, in Aromatherapy: An A-Z, describes the aroma of benzoin as ice cream. I would describe benzoin as a sweet, rich aroma that is reminiscent of vanilla with chocolate undertones. It has the ability to instantly calm and soothe the soul emotionally. Although it is a resinoid, as oppose to a true essential oil, I think that it is a valuable addition to your essential oil collection!
-Davis, Patricia, 1999, Aromatherapy: An A-Z, UK: Vermilion
-Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons
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