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Herbs & Botanicals

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Benzoin (an xi xiang)

What is benzoin? What is it used for?

Benzoin comes from the benzoin tree, a deciduous, shrubby gum tree that grows in Sumatra and other parts of southern Asia, and can reach a height of more than 100 feet. The active ingredient in the tree is a type of gummy resin contained in the tree's bark.

The resin is harvested when the tree reaches an age of six of seven years by cutting deep triangular holes in the bark, then collecting the resin once it hardens.

Benzoin is associated with the Heart, Liver and Spleen meridians, and has spicy, bitter and neutral properties, based on traditional Chinese medicine principles. Its main functions are to increase the flow of qi and blood, and to open the orifices. The main active ingredient in benzoin is benzoic acid, which has aromatic and disinfectant properties. Among the conditions benzoin can treat are loss of consciousness, abdominal pain and chest pain. It also stimulates the circulatory system, and is particularly effective against a variety of skin disorders, including shingles and ringworm. In addition to its medicinal uses, benzoin is a common ingredient in many skin-care products, cosmetics, perfumes, and types of incense.

How much benzoin should I take?

The typical dose of benzoin is between 0.3-1.5 grams of an extract or tincture. It can also be applied externally to treat skin ulcers and disinfect tissue.

What forms of benzoin are available?

Benzoin is available most often as a tincture or extract; these items can usually be found at herbal shops and specialty stores. Whole pieces of benzoin resin can also be found at some specialty stores, although it is generally more difficult to obtain than extracts or tinctures.

What can happen if I take too much benzoin? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Benzoin is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association has given it a class 1 rating, which means that it can be safely consumed when used appropriately. However, benzoin should not be taken by patients who have been diagnosed with yin deficiency and excess heat or fire. In addition, external applications of benzoin may cause irritation and/or contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. If this occurs, discontinue use.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with benzoin. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking benzoin or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Anderson C, Lis-Balchin M, Kirk-Smith M. Evaluation of massage with essential oils on childhood atopic eczema. Phytother Res September 2000;14(6):452-6.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, p. 73.
  • Lawless J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1995, p. 222.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 111.
  • Scardamaglia L, Nixon R, Fewings J. Compound tincture of benzoin: a common contact allergen? Australas J Dermatol August 2003;44(3):180-4.

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