It is the trunk of the tall Southeast Asian benzoin tree that, when cut, exudes a delicious, vanilla-scented gum resin. This essential oil has been used since antiquity in aromatherapy preparations such as frankincense. They made solid pomades that smelled like vanilla and were rubbed on the skin for both fragrance and healing.

Arabian traders brought benzoin to Greece, Rome, and Egypt, where it became prized as a fixative in perfumes and potpourris -- still one of its uses today. The Crusaders carried benzoin into Europe to scent their cherished Oriental-style perfume. Europeans highly regarded benzoin for its medicinal properties as well as its scent.

Benzoin is typically sold as an absolute, but it is so thick it may be difficult for you to get it out of the bottle. If so, dilute it with a little alcohol, such as vodka, or dissolve it in warm vegetable oil so it is easier to pour. An absolute thinned with ethyl glycol is also sold, but aromatherapists avoid oils and scents containing this chemical. You can also buy benzoin tincture in an alcohol base in drugstores.

Principal constituents of benzoin: Resin, benzoic acid, vanillin, coniferyl benzoate, phenylethylene, and phenylpropylic alcohol. Cinnamic acid occurs only in the type called Sumatra benzoin.

Scent of benzoin: It has a sweet, warm, vanillalike odor that is long lasting and makes it an excellent fixative.

Therapeutic properties of benzoin: Antibacterial, antifungal; seals wounds from infection; counteracts inflammation; decreases gas, indigestion, and lung congestion; promotes circulation; and is an antioxidant and deodorant

Uses for benzoin: Effective against redness, irritation, or itching on the skin, benzoin's most popular use is in a cream to protect chapped skin and improve skin elasticity. Since it is also a strong preservative, adding it to vegetable oil-based preparations delays their oxidation and spoilage. Benzoin essential oil can be added to chest rub balms and massage oils for lung and sinus ailments (stir in about 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of preparation), or use the tincture of benzoin to make cough medicine formulas.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:
  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.