Balsam Torchwood (Amyris balsamifera L.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Rutaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Plantae Kingdom, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Rosidae Subclass, Sapindales Order, Rutaceae Family and therefore to the Genus Amyris and to the Species A. balsami fera.
The terms are synonymous:
– Amyris funckiana Turcz .;
– Elemifera balsamifera (L.) Kuntze.
The term Amyris is of controversial origin. According to some authors, it would be in honor of Ἄμυρις Ámiris Amiri, a dark person mentioned by Herodotus; according to others it comes from the Greek ἄμῠρον ámyron unscented, unfriendly.
The specific epithet balsami fera comes from the Greek βάλσαμον bálsamon balsam, derived in turn from the Hebrew basam perfume, spice (connected to the Aramaic busma and the Arabic basham) and from φέρω phéro to bring: which produces aromatic or quality resin balsamic.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat –
Amyris balsamifera is a plant native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, especially in the wooded regions of the island of Haiti, and widespread in a vast range that includes: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica , Nicaragua, Honduras, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Cuba, North America and Florida.
Its habitat is that of mountain slopes but also of coastal areas, on permeable soils, temperate-warm and sufficiently rainy climates.
Amyris balsamifera is a small tree or in the form of a shrub, aromatic and evergreen, which grows from 2 to 8 meters in height.
The leaves, with a trifoliate arrangement, are ovate-lanceolate in shape, carried by long petioles and varying in size from 3 to 13 cm.
The flowers are whitish, very small, gathered in dense clusters.
The fruit is an oblong-ovoid drupe of 6-14 mm and very dark in color.
Balsam Torchwood is a small tree, improperly called Sandalwood, as it belongs to the Rutaceae family but which is used, even in its natural state, for its essential oil.
It is however cultivated, both for its oil and for wood in several tropical countries outside its area of origin.
Uses and Traditions –
Amyris balsamifera is a small shrub with an aromatic bark.
Due to the high oil content in the wood, the wood is extremely flammable and can be used as a torch; so much so that it is sometimes called “Torchwood”.
The wood of this plant is subjected to steam distillation by means of which a viscous essential oil of golden yellow color is obtained.
The oil contains elemic acids, liquid sesquiterpenes and triterpenes such as α- and β-amirine, it also contains caryophyllene, cadinene and cadinol.
Although botanically separate, the perfume is similar to sandalwood, being woody and sweet with a hint of pepper.
Due to its characteristics, Amyris has been used instead of sandalwood due to the difference in cost, even if it is not a totally suitable replacement.
The most common use of this plant is for soaps, perfumes, which need a fixative, since this oil binds the perfume, bringing sufficient stability.
The essential oil of this plant has sedative properties and is useful for lowering blood pressure. It also has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antifungal properties.
Many anti-aging skin care products have Amyris essential oil inside because of its invigorating effect on the skin, keeping it clear and healthy.
The addition of a small amount of this facial tonic oil supports the skin, regenerates the skin and delays fine lines, wrinkles and age spots.
The oils that blend well with Amyris balsamifera are those obtained from Cedar, Ginger, Lavender and Cananga odorata (ylang-ylang).
There are currently no known contraindications for the use of this oil. In any case, a carrier oil must always be diluted before use, keeping it out of the reach of children.
The oil is also used for the preparation of incense.
The other uses of this plant are related to the use of its wood in cabinet-making since the wood is hard, heavy, fine-grained, can take on a high polish and repels termites.
Caribbean sea fishermen have used Amyris branches for centuries as natural torches.
Method of Preparation –
To obtain the essential oil, a steam extraction method is used starting from the wood and the chopped branches (preferably seasoned).
It looks like an almost colorless or straw-colored viscous liquid with an evanescent woody scent that brings back sandalwood.
A good use of this oil is to harmonize it with other oils such as those obtained from Quercine musk essential oil, and with others such as: Agrawood, Cedar, Lemongrass, Lavender, Nutmeg and Ylang ylang.
However, it is recommended to keep it in the dark in a well-capped glass bottle in a cool place.
Storage can last up to seven years.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Tips and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for information purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; therefore, no responsibility is accepted for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.