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Copaiba Balsam

Copaiba Balsam

Copaiba balsam
Genus: Copaifera
Species: officinalis, langsdorffii, reticulata
Synonyms: Copaifera jacquinii, C. nitida, C. paupera, C.
sellowii, Copaiva officinalis
Common Names: Copaiba, copaipera, cupayba, copauba, copal,
balsam copaiba, copaiva, copaiba-verdadeira, Jesuit’s balsam,
copaibeura-de-Minas, cobeni, Matidisguate, matisihuati,
mal-dos-sete-dias, aceite de palo, pau-de-oleo, básamo de

Copaiba balsam images


Evergreen tree to 35 m tall, to 1 m in diameter, otherwise rather resembling Copaifera officinalis, which see. In Argentina (Territorio de Misiones) it is 6-12
m tall, with paripinnate glabrous, subcoriaceous leaves 5-10 cm long; leaflets 2-4 pairs, opposite or semialternate petiolulate, elliptic ovoid, 2-6 cm long, 1.2-2.5
cm broad with finely pinnate reticulate nervation, glandular-punctate. Flowers in terminal racemes to compound panicles with numerous, subsessile
whitish flowers. Sepals 4 lanceolate, concave, firm, glabrous outside, pubescent inside. Petals absent. Stamens free, (8-)10, the anthers elliptic, versatile. Ovary
hirsute; briefly stipitate; fruit ovoid, compressed, ca 2 x 3 cm, coriaceous, with one large seed partially covered with a thick aril (Burkart, 1943). There is some
question about the distinctness of the species. This species, called "Copaiba" in Brazil, is called "Cabismo" in Venezuela, a name applied in Darien Panama to
what was identified by Duke (1972) as Copaifera officinalis, but has since been relegated to another species. Duke describes "cabismo" as one of the finest
timbers in Darien. Calvin (1980) mentions another similar species, Copaifera multijuga.

Description and distribution
Copaifera species occur in Africa and South America but the only ones which yield commercially useful oleoresin are those found in the forests of Amazonia. (As noted earlier, some African Copaifera were once used as sources of certain types of copal). The trees grow up to 30 m high and are widely distributed along the Amazon and its tributaries, although in very variable densities, often only thinly scattered.
C. reticulata, C. guianensis and C. multijuga are the principal Brazilian sources of copaiba. C. reticulata has been stated in the past as accounting for 70% of Brazilian copaiba production. C. langsdorffii is a cerrado source of oil but is not believed to be traded in any significant amounts. C. officinalis is the traditional main source of copaiba in Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas.

Copaiba collection:
As to the mode of collecting the balsam, Piso (1658) relates that an incision is made through the bark deep into the pith at the season of the full moon, which causes such an abundant flow of fatty and oily liquid that 12 pounds may exude in 3 hours. In case no oil should appear, the opening is at once closed with wax or clay, and after 2 weeks the yield is sufficient to make up for the delay. The fact that the resiniferous ducts in these trees often attain a diameter of 1
inch, as has been observed more recently by Karsten, seems to be quite in harmony with the statement regarding the abundant yield. It is also related that frequently the balsam accumulates in these ducts and exerts pressure enough upon the enclosing walls to burst the tree with a loud report. According to Piso, the copaiba tree is not very frequent in the province of Pernambuco, but thrives luxuriantly in the island of Maranhao, which he says furnishes the balsam of
commerce in great quantity.

Labat reports that in 1696 he had an opportunity to observe for the first time the tree yielding copaiba in the island of Guadeloupe. He relates in detail the manner of collecting the balsam which he calls huile de copau. The vessels in which the balsam is collected are made of the fruit of the calabash, a kind of gourd. The collection, he states, takes place about 3 months after the rainy season; that is, in March for the countries north of the equator, and in September
for the countries south of this line.


A cross section of the trunk shows that the hydrocarbons collect in thin capillaries that may extend the full 30-meter height of the tree. A holedrilled into the tree probably collects hydrocarbons from capillaries ruptured by the drilling, Calvin speculates, so that it may be possible to increase the yield by drilling additional holes. An acre of 100 mature trees might thus be able to produce 25 barrels of fuel per year. Unfortunately, in the United States the tree would
probably grow only in Southern Florida. The Brazilian government has already established experimental plantations. Calvin concedes that copaifera will probably never represent a significant source of diesel fuel for the U.S. It is of interest chiefly as an example of the great diversity of materials produced by plants (Maugh, 1979). Old USDA information summaries give a slightly different harvesting story. "The wood of the tree is honeycombed with a network of
connected cavities in which the oleoresin forms. To tap the tree, a drainage reservoir is hollowed out near its base by cutting inward and downward into the center of the trunk. The cavities containing the oleoresin gradually drain into these hollowed-out wells. This process is repeated several times during the season. When first obtained, copaiba is thin and clear but on aging becomes thicker and acquires a yellowish tinge."

The yield of balsam per tree is very variable and depends on the species of Copaifera tapped, the age of the tree, the period of time since the previous tapping and the season. Estimates given by traders in Brazil for oleoresin yields differ widely and yields of up to 15 litres ormore are quoted.
Relatively recent tapping studies (ALENCAR, 1982) have revealed high variability in yields between individual trees growing under the same conditions. A maximum mean yield of 0.25 litres of oleoresin per tree was obtained for the first tapping. The highest yield of oleoresin was almost 3 litres, but a third of the trees produced no oleoresin at all, and four further tappings over a 3 1/2 -year period
yielded progressively less.

*Ethnic uses (all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide to treatment for disease)
On the Rio Solimoes in northwest Amazonia, copaiba resin is used topically by indigenous tribes as a cicatrizant, for skin sores and psoriasis, and to treat gonorrhea. Healers and curanderos in the Amazon today use copaiba resin for all types of pain, for skin disorders and insect bites, and to cool inflammation. In Brazilian herbal medicine today it is used as a strong antiseptic and expectorant for the respiratory tract (including bronchitis and sinusitis), as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic for the urinary tract (for cystitis, bladder, and kidney infections), as a topical anti-inflammatory agent for all types of skin disorders, internally and externally for cancer, and as a popular remedy for stomach ulcers. Copaiba resin is sold in gel capsules in stores and pharmacies in Brazil and recommended for all types of inflammation, stomach ulcers and cancer. One of its more popular home-remedy uses in Brazil is as a gargle for sore throats and tonsilitis. In Peruvian traditional medicine, three or four drops of the resin are mixed with a spoonful of honey and taken as a natural sore throat remedy. It is also employed in Peruvian herbal medicine systems as an anti-inflammatory, carminative, and diuretic, and for incontinence, urinary problems, stomach ulcers, syphilis, tetanus, bronchitis, catarrh, herpes, pleurisy, tuberculosis, hemorrhages,
and leishmaniasis (applied as a plaster).

Essential oil:
Copaiba oil is obtained from the natural oleoresin by direct vacuum distillation. The resin contains up to 15% volatile oil; the remaining materials are resins and acids. The oil contains a group of phytochemicals called sesquiterpenes (over 50% of the resin may be sesquiterpenes), diterpenes, and terpenic acids. These chemicals include caryophyllene, calamenene, and copalic, coipaiferic, copaiferolic, hardwickic, and kaurenoic acids. Several of these chemicals are novel ones found only in copaiba. Copaiba resin is the highest known natural source of caryophyllene, comprising up to 480,000 parts per million.

Copaiba Balsam Oil

Description of the oil:
Copaiba Balsam Oil is a colorless of pale yellow to yellow-green or bluish very mobile oil. The odor is similar to the crude balsam but much milder, sweeter, almost creamy balsamic with a faint peppery-spicy undertone....
Copaiba oil finds some use in perfumery but from the fixative point it is neglible.. Its main use is a modifier/blender. It blends well with ylang, cananga, sandalwood oil, jasmin absolute..The oil is used in pine fragrances, woody bases, violet perfumes, spicy fragrances....