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Balsam of Tolu

Updated on April 8, 2015
Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms
Myroxylon L. f
Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Plantae – Plants
Classification of Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms


Tolu balsam, Kata-kamanchal, sambranee (Tamil)

Biological source

Balsam of Tolu is a solid or semi solid resinous secretion obtained from the trunks of trees Myroxylon balsamum(Linne’) Harms belonging to family fabaceae.

Geographical source

Native to Columbia, the drug is collected in caribbean islands and Cuba. The name Tolu has been derived from a place situated near Cartagena on the north coast of Columbia. In India it is found in the states of Karnataka, kerala and West Bengal. It has also been introduced into African states of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire.


balsam of tolu is part of traditional medicine of Central America and South America where is believed to relive cough and asthma, it is also used to treat wounds. Tolu balsam was documented in 1574 by Monardes. It is currently official in many pharmacopoeias including United States Pharmacopoeia and British Pharmacopoeia.

Balsam of Tolu Bark
Balsam of Tolu Bark | Source
Brittle Balsam of tolu after storage
Brittle Balsam of tolu after storage

Cultivation, Collection and preparation

V-shape incisions are made on the bark of the tree and a calabash container is placed below the narrowest end of the V to collect the resin. Many incisions at suitable distance are made on the tree. It is a pathological product. The collected resin is transferred to suitable tin or plastic containers at regular intervals.


  1. Appearance: Fresh tolu is a soft yellow semisolid.It becomes brittle and turns brown on storing.
  2. Odour: fragrant and aromatic.
  3. Taste: Aromatic, forms a plastic mass when chewed.

Standards for medicinal use

  1. Acid Value: Between 112 and 168 when measured by procedure laid down in USP-29.
  2. Saponification Value: Between 154 and 220 when measured by procedure laid down in USP-29.
  3. Loss on drying: Not more than 4%
  4. Alcohol Insoluble matter: Not more that 5% W/w.

Identification tests

  1. Crystals of cinnamic acid are seen under microscope when small quantity of balsam of tolu is heated and pressed between two glass slides.
  2. Green colour is observed when ferric chloride solution is added to alcoholic solution of balsam of tolu.
  3. When balsam of tolu is oxidized with potassium permanganate solution smell of benzaldehyde is perceived.
  4. Almost completely soluble in 90% ethenol and gives acidic litmus test.

Chemical constituents

Tolu balsam is reported to have 8% free benzoic acid, 12 to 16% of free cinnamic acid. Esters like benzyl benzoate and benzyl cinnamate are about 7.5% cumulatively. The resinous matter is mainly ester of toluresinotannol around 70%. presence of other esters like styrene, eugenol,ferulic acid and vanillin are also present in small quantities.

A highly fragrant yellow color volatile oil is obtained from balsam of tolu which has wide application in fragrance industry.


Balsam of tolu is adulterated with Rosin, it is detected by performing following test:

  • Step 1: Dissolve 1 gram of Tolu balsam in petroleum ether.
  • Step 2: Add 2ml dilute solution of copper acetate.
  • Step 3: If petroleum ether becomes emerald green then the sample is adulterated with Rosin, Rosin has copper salt of abietic acid which gives positive test.

Balsam of tolu is also adulterated with exhausted drug or cinnamic acid is externally added to exhausted drug from which volatile oils are previously extracted. Such varieties can be detected by lack of natural aromatic smell.


Balsam of Tolu is used to make expectorant syrups. It is also a good flavoring agent. Currently has application in preparation of perfumes, aroma therapy oils, chewing gums and confectioneries.


  • Trease and Evans Pharmacognosy 15th edition.
  • Pharmacognocy by C.K Kokate, A.P. Purohit, S.B. Gokhale 45th Edition
  • United States Pharmacopoeia 29 National Formulatory 24
  • ILDIS World Database of Legumes


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