There are over forty types of balsam essential oil. Three, in particular, are Peruvian, copaiba, and fir. All three types boast similar health benefits, although here we will focus specifically on Peruvian balsam essential oil.
Although you may not be familiar with this essential oil, it is easily recognizable by its vanilla scent. It is often used to add vanilla fragrance to common toiletries since it is more cost-effective than vanilla and offers a similar aroma.
The History of Peruvian Balsam
Peruvian balsam essential oil is extracted from Myroxylon balsamum, which is native to Central and South America1. This essential oil is unique in the fact that it is actually extracted from the balsam—more commonly known as the sap—of this tree.
The name of the tree itself is actually misleading, as the tree is originally from El Salvador. The name “Peruvian balsam” comes from colonial times when the balsam was exported from Peru to Europe for medicinal purposes.2
The balsam itself is deep brown in color and smells like a mixture of cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. Extracting the resin requires three different tappings of raw balsam. Next, cloths are laid to collect the resin, which takes approximately 15–20 days. The cloths are then boiled and pressed to gather the resin, which is steam distilled into essential oil. The essential oil is golden to dark brown in color and has a warm vanilla aroma.
The Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations used the balsam of this tree to treat wounds and ease the symptoms of rheumatism, asthma, and colds. Peruvians have used the balsam to reduce coughs, remedy bronchitis, and reduce fevers, while in India it has been used to stop bleeding, remove worms, and as a diuretic.
Today, Peruvian balsam essential oil is used as a fragrance in shampoos and soaps, for flavoring in candies and baked goods, and medicinally to fight infections, treat skin conditions, and reduce coughs.
Peruvian balsam essential oil is an antioxidant, antiperspirant, anti-inflammatory, stimulant, expectorant, antiseptic, antibacterial, and diuretic. All of these powerful healing properties are due to the terpene composition of the oil, which includes:
- Benzoic acid: An antibacterial that helps reduce skin inflammation and symptoms of eczema.
- Benzyl benzoate: Helpful in reducing head lice and scabies, although is also one of the main compounds that may lead to allergic reactions.
- Cinnamic acid: A powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial compound that kills bacteria and fungi.
- Nerolidol: Found in many herbal teas and believed to promote good health.3
Peruvian balsam essential oil also has as traces of isoeugenol, limonene, benzyl alcohol, vanillin, coumarin, homovanillic acid, and eugenol. Vanillin is the main compound found in vanilla beans and is an antioxidant that protects against free radical and UV damage.
Common Uses for Peruvian Balsam Essential Oil
Peruvian balsam essential oil has a wide range of healing properties—from improving immune function to treating skin conditions, to help reduce the risk of infection. The most important uses for Peruvian balsam essential oil are highlighted below:
Improves Respiratory Function
Because Peruvian balsam essential oil is an expectorant, it helps the lungs expel excess phlegm and reduces a cough. This helps reduce the symptoms of cold, flu, and bronchitis.4
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To clear the lungs and breathe easier, diffuse a few drops of this oil throughout the room. You can also add a few drops of the oil into a bowl of steaming water, cover your head with a towel and breathe in deeply. For an on-the-go option, try using a portable essential oil diffuser.
Reduces Risk of Infection
When a tree is wounded, it releases balsam to protect itself against fungal or bacterial infection. Peruvian balsam essential oil provides the same benefits for us. Using the oil topically provides a protective layer against microbes when applied over cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and minor burns.
Throughout history, Peruvian balsam essential oil was used to treat scabies because of its efficacy in killing mites. Nowadays, it is typically used in topical treatments for scabies, diaper rash, eczema, and rashes.
To speed up healing and reduce the risk of infection, mix a few of this essential oil with a carrier oil and apply to the affected area.
Peruvian balsam essential oil is particularly effective at soothing a dry, irritated scalp and removing dandruff. To get rid of dandruff, add a couple of drops of this oil to your shampoo and wash as usual. You can also add a couple of drops to a glass of water to use as a cleansing rinse after shampooing, or mix a couple of drops into a carrier oil and massage onto the scalp.5
Soothes Sore Muscles
As an anti-inflammatory, Peruvian balsam essential oil helps reduce redness as well as muscle and joint pain.
To soothe sore muscles after a long day, add a few drops of this essential oil into a carrier oil and massage directly on the sore areas. You can also add a few drops to a bath.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The warm vanilla scent of Peruvian balsam essential oil is ideal for calming the mind and alleviating stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed throughout the day, simply inhale the scent of this oil using a vaporizer, room diffuser, or portable essential oil diffuser like Love MONQ. Alternatively, add a few drops of the oil to a terracotta necklace to keep the scent close.
Soothes Irritated Skin
This essential oil helps prevent moisture loss, which is especially effective at moisturizing chapped, broken, or damaged skin. Additionally, it reduces rashes and eczema, leaving skin feeling soft and supple.6
To calm irritated skin, mix a few drops of Peruvian balsam essential oil into a carrier oil and massage onto the affected skin. You can repeat this twice daily until the appearance of the skin improves.
Flushes Toxins from the Body
Since Peruvian balsam essential oil acts as a diuretic, it can help induce urination and remove harmful toxins from the body. This keeps the kidneys functioning properly.
Keeps Teeth and Gums Healthy
Peruvian balsam is a common ingredient in dental hygiene products. It is especially effective in reducing bacteria and preventing infections due to its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Dentists may also use it to prevent “dry socket,” a painful condition that may appear after a tooth is removed.
Boosts Immune System Function
The antioxidant properties of Peruvian balsam essential oil help boost immune system function, fighting free radicals and reducing signs of aging.
Alternative Uses for Peruvian Balsam Essential Oil
Although Peruvian balsam essential oil has a wide variety of medicinal uses, it is also used to flavor food and drink and add a vanilla scent to toiletries.7
- Flavoring: Peruvian balsam is often used to flavor puddings, baked goods, tea, soft drinks, and aperitifs.
- Scented Toiletries: Because of its warm vanilla scent, Peruvian balsam is often added as a fragrance in toiletries such as perfumes, deodorants, lotions, shampoos, and aftershave.
Inspiration for Use
For a simple, calming perfume, mix a drop of Peruvian balsam essential oil with two drops of frankincense essential oil and three drops of a carrier oil. Place on your pulse points.
Mix Peruvian balsam and ylang-ylang essential oils with a carrier oil for a soothing skin balm. Massage onto the skin for relief from skin irritation. You can turn this mixture into a salve by melting down beeswax and adding it to the mix.
Safety and Precautions
Although Peruvian balsam essential oil has a wide variety of medicinal uses, the resin itself is one of the most allergic substances in nature, and among the top five allergens in allergy patch tests. Because of this, it’s especially important to conduct a small patch test before using this oil topically. Alternatively, you can have your doctor conduct a test to determine whether or not you are allergic.
Common allergic reactions to this oil include rashes, blisters, watery eyes, or inflammation of the lips, mouth, or tongue. Even if you find that you are not allergic to the oil, dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil before applying topically to avoid irritation.
Using Peruvian balsam essential oil internally can damage the kidneys or exacerbate an already existing condition. Although it is used in the food and beverage industry, you should not attempt to flavor food or drink with this oil on your own.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use Peruvian balsam essential oil.
If you are attempting to use this oil to treat a chronic condition, consult with your doctor before use.
Final Thoughts About Peruvian Balsam Essential Oil
Peruvian balsam essential oil is a powerful healer that can bring relief for many common ailments when used with caution.
Depending on your personal needs, you can mix Peruvian balsam essential oil with a wide variety of other essential oils and carrier oils to increase its efficacy and extend its healing properties.
Whether you’re looking to relieve stress, improve the appearance of the skin, or reduce the risk of infection, Peruvian balsam essential oil is a powerful addition to your medicine cabinet.