Balsam Tolu is a recent (non-fossil) resin that originates from South America (Columbia, Peru, Venezuela), similar to Balsam of Peru. It is tapped from the living trunks of Myroxylon toluiferum.
It is a brownish, sticky, semisolid mass. An essential oil is also distilled from the balsam. The balsam contains a fairly large amount of esters of benzoic and cinnamic acid (benzyl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate).
In 1841, Henri Étienne Sainte-Claire Deville isolated toluene by the dry distillation of tolu balsam.
The resin, as well as the leaves and fruit, have been traditionally used by the people of Central America and South America to relieve coughs and asthma, and to treat wounds. Its name comes from Tolú (singular); Tolúes (plural).
The name of the native precolumbian people that used to be the inhabitants at the same place where now is located Tolu, a small town and municipality in Sucre Department, northern Colombia (South America) by the Caribbean sea.
Tolues were the first reported to be using this resin in early Spanish chronicles. The resin of this tree is what is most valuable and is retrieved in the same fashion that one collects the valuable properties from a rubber tree by tapping into it.
The gummy resin that comes from the tree is then turned into balsam. Today, the main exporters of Balsam of Tolu are El Salvador, Columbia, and Venezuela.
Tolu balsam is comprised of 3/4 fragrant resinous compound, containing approximately 15% free cinnamic acid and benzoic acid and about 40% of the benzyl and related esters of these free acids.
A volatile oil is present in small amounts (from 1.5% to 7%). Traces of styrene, coumarin and vanillin are also present.
In earlier times it was tribal groups from Mexico and Central America that used the leaves of Balsam of Tolu to treat such common ailments as external wounds, asthma, colds, flu, and arthritis.
Some native Indians used the bark in a powered form as an underarm deodorant while others found it best for lung and cold ailments.
Those who originated in the rainforest tribes used Balsam of Tolu quite frequently for many medicinal purposes such as Abscesses, Asthma, Bronchitis, Catarrh and Diarrhoea.
Resinoid Tolu is a very good Fixative for Vanilla and Musks. Imparting a persistent sweet vanillic odour.