Botanical and Common Names
- Family Leguminosae (Fabaceae)
- Copaifera langsdorffi (Copaiba Balsam, Copaiva)
- Copaifera officinalis (Copaiba, Jesuit’s balsam, Copal, Balsam)
- Use only under the guidance of a knowledgeable professional as it is toxic in overdose.
Indigenous to the tropical regions of South America, mainly Peru, Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela, the tree also is found in South Africa. Copaiba is an evergreen tree, reaching up to 100 feet in height, producing compound leaves and small yellow flowers. The medicinal part is the resinous oil that is bitter to the taste and yellow-brown in colour. It is obtained from drillings into the trunk. A single tree can yield up to forty liters of resin.
The resin was used by native Brazilians long before the arrival of Europeans. It was introduced into Europe in the 16th century.
In 1625, a Portuguese monk observed that it was used to heal wounds and to remove scars.
As well as being used for medicinal purposes, the resinous oil has also been used for nonmedical purposes, including as an additive to perfumes and varnishes.
- volatile oil (30-90% mainly alpha- and beta-caryophyllene, sesquiterpenes, resins, and terpenic acids)
- Brazilian researchers found in a 1998 study that there was less damage to the stomach tissue and concluded that the resin increased mucus production that acted as an antacid.
Copaiba is used mainly in Brazil for infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts, as well as for kidney stones and gonorrhea. It irritates the mucous membranes and promotes the coughing up of phlegm.
Tintures are used in homeopathic medicine for bronchitis and catarrh, as well as chronic cystitis, diarrhea, and hemorrhoids.
It has also been used as a styptic for wounds and ulcers to promote healing. Infusions are used to wash wounds, eczema, and other skin diseases.
Several of the forty Copaifera species yield a medicinal oleo-resin. The main one is Copaiba, but others are tapped as well including the following: C. coriacea, C. multijuga, C. officinalis, and C. reticulata. In Zimbabwe, a decoction of C. mopane is inhaled for temporary insanity.