Balsam & Bark
Aromatic Note: Base to middle note
This bushy deciduous tree is treasured for its aromatic and medicinal balsam and bark.
The tree grows to 33 ft. (10m) in height and sheds beautiful maple-like leaves in late fall of each year.
The balsam is harvested using a tool upon the trunk and collecting the resulting resin flow. It’s then washed in boiling water, and can be further cleaned with alcohol.
The pure sticky balsam is brownish-gray to greenish-gray in color and usually non-pourable at room temperature. It contains substantial portions of cinnamic acid.
Storax balsam also has a distinct gasoline-like styrene top note covering the underlying balsamic sweetness. Some perfumers prefer this styrene note because of its powerful unsaturated hydrocarbon. The styrene note mellows over time and if used in very small amounts in an incense blend it will not overpower the blend and yet still add a depth of sweet balsamic notes to the mixture.
The sweet fragrant bark of the tree is also used for incense. Balsam can be boiled from the bark as well. The bark is widely exploited by the tobacco industry as an additive in cigarettes.
There’s also an “American Storax” from the tree Liquidambar styraciflua, found in North, Central, and South America. This is considered an inferior balsam to the Turkish and Asian balsam of L. orientalis but still has a rich history of use for incense, perfumery, and medicine. It is also known as “American Sweetgum.”
Threatened Species Alert: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species now includes the L. orientalis species.
Status: L. orientalis = “Endangered.” In Turkey the Liquidambar forests have been reduced from 63 km² to 13.5 km² since 1945. Much of the land has been converted for agriculture. Trees are cut for firewood and the resin is collected for the production of a fixative in the perfume industry. The species is now the target of a special conservation programme.
Status:L. styraciflua = “Least Concern. This species distribution is fragmented, subpopulations occur in southern U.S.A., 800 km to the north of the subpopulations in Tamaulipas in Mexico.
Synonyms: Oriental sweetgum, styrax, su he xiang
Origin: area around Turkey and Southwest Asia
Parts Used: balsam and bark
Balsam: unpleasant tenacious styrene top note followed by a subtle sweet, floral fragrance with hints of grass.
Bark: rich, very sweet, balsamic, floral
Emotional Attributes: relaxing, strengthening, love, sensuous, helps with sleep
Cosmetic Uses: perfumery; used in many floral perfumes, fixative properties, aromatherapy
Culinary Uses: none known
Medicinal Attributes: stimulant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, promotes healing, used to treat strokes, convulsions, coma, heart disease, etc.
Essential Oil: Yes, steam distilled essential oils are made from the balsam and occasionally the bark, a resinoid is also made using either alcohol or solvents.
Incense Making Tip: The Balsam is very sticky and non-pourable at room temperature. If you warm it by having the balsam in a glass jar and setting the jar in a bowl or pot of hot water, the balsam will become more pourable and easier to work with. Wear latex or rubber gloves to avoid a sticky mess.
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