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Peruvian Balsam: Origins and Characteristics
Peruvian balsam, a tree belonging to the fabaceae family, is native to Central America and grows in countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Its name is somewhat misleading, as it is not found in Peru. The tree's name is derived from the fact that the balsam was once exported from a port in Peru. In its natural state, the tree reaches heights of 15 to 20 meters, with a slender trunk covered in grayish bark. Its leaves feature around ten leaflets and are alternate. The tree also has small white flowers in clusters and a fruit resembling a flattened, winged pod with a swollen end containing a seed. These pods measure 5 to 6 centimeters in length.
Peruvian balsam gained its fame due to the plant's secretory channels that expel a red-brown liquid resin. This resin has a wide range of aromas and an intense fragrance. However, it can also be very allergenic, causing redness, itching, blistering, and eczema. Despite these drawbacks, Peruvian balsam is known for its antiseptic, healing, pain-relieving, anti-rheumatic, and antispasmodic properties. It is also believed to stimulate the heart, increase blood pressure, and decrease mucous membrane secretions. An Amerindian legend tells of a tree that emerged from the earth when warring tribes finally made peace – the Peruvian balsam.
Peruvian Balsam and Its Sweet, Balsamic Scent
Peruvian balsam is a natural balsamic resin that produces an essential oil. This oil is obtained through steam distillation of the balm or extraction with volatile solvents from its resinoid. The balm is extracted directly from the trunk of the Peruvian balsam tree, either by partially burning its bark to detach it easily or by wrapping a cloth around an incision previously made in the trunk. The cloth becomes impregnated with the balm and is then heated to recover it. In perfumery, Peruvian balsam is considered an excellent fixative and is mainly used in amber, leather, or vanilla fragrances.
Peruvian balsam is highly appreciated for its sweet scent reminiscent of caramel. It can be found in various fragrances such as Eau de Lacoste, Eau des Merveilles d'Hermès, and Love Chloé Eau Intense by Chloé. As a versatile and aromatic ingredient, Peruvian balsam continues to be a popular choice for perfumers looking to create enchanting scents.