Many essential oils come from resins, gums, and balsams. I wanted to know more definitively the difference between these terms. I learned a lot but also in my research there are many overlapping definitions. Here are some of the definitions I found.
What is a Resin?
A resin is a solid or highly viscous, sticky flammable organic substance, insoluble in water, exuded by some trees and other plants (example fir and pine). Plants secrete resins for their protective benefits in response to injury. Resin circulates throughout a coniferous tree and a few others, and serves to seal damage to the tree. The resin protects the plant from insects and pathogens. Resins confound a wide range of herbivores, insects, and pathogens, while the volatile natural phenolic compounds may attract benefactors such as parasitoids or predators of the herbivores that attack the plant.
Resin secretion occurs in special cavities or in many plant species. They are formed in the specialized structures called passages ducts. Resins exude or ooze out from the bark of the trees and tend to harden on exposure to air. With the exception of lac, which is produced by the lac insect (Kerria lacca), all other natural resins are of plant origin. Natural resins of particular importance to the furniture coatings are rosin, damar, copal, sandarac, amber and manila.
The principal characteristics of resins are: ● They are insoluble in water. ● They are soluble in ordinary solvents like alcohol, ether and turpentine. ● They are brittle, amorphous and are transparent or semi-transparent. ● They have a characteristics luster, are ordinarily fusible and when ignited,resins burn with a smoky flame.
Human use of plant resins has a very long history that was documented in ancient Greece by Theophrastus, and in ancient Rome by Pliny the Elder; and especially in the resins known as frankincense and myrrh, prized in ancient Egypt.These were highly prized substances, and required as incense in some religious rites. Harvesting pine resin dates back to the Gallo-Roman culture about 100 AD.
Resin is usually collected by causing minor damage to the tree by making a hole far enough into the trunk to puncture the vacuoles, to let sap exit the tree, known as tapping, and then letting the tree repair its damage by filling the wound with resin. This usually takes a few days. Then, excess resin is collected. Tapping pines may either be done so as to sustain the life of the tree, or exhaustively in the years before the tree is cut down.
Several natural resins are used as ingredients in perfumes, e.g., balsams of Peru and tolu, elemi, styrax, and certain turpentines. The word "resin" has been applied in the modern world to nearly any component of a liquid that will set into a hard lacquer or enamel-like finish. An example is nail polish. Certain "casting resins" and synthetic resins (such as epoxy resin) have also been given the name "resin."
Example of a Resin:
Amber is fossilized tree resin, which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects and jewelry. It has also been used as a healing agent in folk medicine. Amber is a unique preservational mode, preserving otherwise unfossilized parts of organisms; as such it is helpful in the reconstruction of ecosystems as well as organisms; the chemical composition of the resin, however, is of limited utility in reconstructing the phylogenetic affinity (plant origin) of the resin producer. Amber sometimes contains animals or plant matter that became caught in the resin as it was secreted. Insects, spiders and even their webs, annelids, frogs,crustaceans, bacteria and amoebae, marine microfossils, wood, flowers and fruit, hair, feathers and other small organisms have been recovered in Cretaceous ambers (deposited c. 130 million years ago). The oldest amber to bear fossils (mites) is from the Carnian (Triassic, 230 million years ago) of north-eastern Italy.
Amber has long been used in folk medicine for its purported healing properties. Amber and extracts were used from the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece for a wide variety of treatments through the Middle Ages and up until the early twentieth century. Traditional Chinese medicine uses amber to "tranquilize the mind", but there is limited evidence that it has a sedative effect in mice.
Other liquid compounds found inside plants or exuded by plants, such as sap, latex, or mucilage, are sometimes confused with resin but are not the same. Saps, in particular, serve a nutritive function that resins do not.
What is an Oleoresin?
Oleoresins are semi-solid extracts composed of a resin in solution in an essential and/or fatty oil, obtained by evaporation of the solvent(s) used for their production. Some resins when soft are known as 'oleoresins', and when naturally containing benzoic acid or cinnamic acid they are called balsams. Oleoresins are naturally occurring mixtures of an oil and a resin; they can be extracted from various plants. Oleoresin is made of two components: volatile oil and resin. The former represents the aroma, while the resin is made up of nonvolatile matter such as color, fat, pungent constituents, and waxes. Volatile oils such as essential oils, are obtained by steam or hydrodistillation, whereas resin is obtained by solvent extraction.
Oleoresins can be prepared from spices such as basil, capsicum (paprika), cardamom, celery seed, cinnamon bark, clove bud, fenugreek, fir balsam, ginger, jambu, labdanum, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, parsley, pepper (black/white), pimenta (allspice), rosemary, sage, savory (summer/winter), thyme, turmeric, vanilla, West Indian bay (Bay Rum) leaves. The solvents used are nonaqueous and may be polar (alcohols) or nonpolar (hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide). Oleoresins are similar to perfumery concretes, obtained especially from flowers, and to perfumery resinoids, which are prepared also from animal secretions. Most oleoresins are used as flavors and perfumes, some are used medicinally (e. g., Hemp bud oleoresin, Capsicum oleoresin).
What is a Gum? Gums are a group of plant products, formed primarily due to the disintegration of plant cellulose. This process is known as gummosis.Gums are produced by members of a large number of families but exploitation is restricted to of commercial a few tree species Leguminosae, Sterculiaceae and Combretaceae families. The important gum yielding trees are Acacia nilotica (babul), A catechu (khair), Steruculia urens (kullu), Anogeissus latifolia (dhawra), Butea monosperma (palas), Bauhinia retusa(semal), Lannea coromandelica (lendia) and Azadirachta indica (neem). Gums are also extracted from seeds of certain plants like guar, tamarind, Cassia tora etc. Guar gum is the prominent seed based natural gum.
The principal characteristics of gums are: ● They consist of polysaccharides or their derivatives. ● They are soluble in water or at least become soft and swollen when mixed with water. However they are insoluble in alcohol and other organic solvents. ● They decompose completely on heating without melting and tend to become charred ● Most gums emanate from plants in a liquid form. They dry up into translucent,amorphous, tear-shaped bodies or flakes on contact with air.
Long, long ago, chewing gum was made from various tree saps. One of the most popular was the latex sap called "chicle" from the sapodilla tree. Today, gum base is usually made from synthetic rubber or a mix of artificial and natural materials.
Other resinous products in their natural condition are a mix with gum or mucilaginous substances and known as gum resins. Gum-resins are a mixture of both gums and resins and possess the properties of both the groups. They contain traces of essential oils.These are usually derived from the plant growing in dry and arid regions. Some of the commonly used gum-resins are asafoetida, myrrh, salai, guggul etc. Source: Indian Institute of Natural Resins & Gums
What is the difference between Tree Resin and Sap? Tree sap and tree resin are not the same. Maple syrup comes from maple trees in the form of sap that drips into a bucket hung from a spile or tap hammered into the tree. Deciduous trees do not produce resin, they produce sap. Sap is more watery than resin, which is thick and slightly amber color. Coniferous or evergreen trees like pine, cedar and Douglas fir produce both sap and tree resin. Most people confuse tree sap with tree resin. The two substances are significantly different in several ways. All trees produce sap to a considerable degree, but resin exists in the domain of trees that belong to the Pinaceae family of trees like pine, fir and cedar trees. Sap is generally a relatively clear and thin watery substance, while resin, also called pitch, is an amber-colored, thick, gooey and tacky.
Maple tree sap used to make maple syrup is essentially water with a mild, sweet taste. Maple sap also provides a source for potable drinking water straight out of the tap. Resin is a gummy material that looks and feels more like tacky, thick glue. Manufacturers use resin to make turpentine. Tree sap exists in two basic forms. The tree pulls sap from the water in the soil through its trunk and out through its leaf pores called stomata. When the tree draws water from the soil, through its roots, it also pulls in mineral nutrients found in both the soil and water. Sap that flows from the leaves downward -- generally toward the roots and other parts of the tree on its way -- contains the all-important sugar or food the tree manufactured in its leaves during photosynthesis.
Resin is very different from sap in its composition. Rather than harboring nutrients that later get transported through the tree, resin consists of compounds secreted by or deposited in the tree probably acting as a means of protection against infection or insect attack.
What is a Balsam? Balsam is the resinous exudate (or sap), which forms on certain kinds of trees and shrubs. Balsam (from Latin balsamum "gum of the balsam tree", owes its name to the biblical Balm of Gilead.
Balsam is a solution of plant-specific resins in plant-specific solvents (essential oils). Such resins can include resin acids, esters, or alcohols. The exudate is a mobile to highly viscous liquid and often contains crystallized resin particles. Over time and as a result of other influences the exudate loses its liquidizing components or gets chemically converted into a solid material (i.e. by autoxidation) Some authors require balsams to contain benzoic or cinnamic acid or their esters.
List of balsams
● Acaroid resin (Xanthorrhoea sp.) ● Acouchi balsam (Protium sp.) ● Ammoniacum ● Asafoetida (Laser) ● Balm of Gilead ● Balm of Mecca ● Balsam fir - Abies balsamea ● Balsam of Peru ● Balsam of Tolu ● Bisabol ● Bdellium ● Benzoin resin ● Bukhoor ● Cabreuva balsam (Myrocarpus frondosus, Myrocarpus fastigatus) ● Camphor ● Canada balsam ● Chinese lacquer (Japanese lacquer) ● Copaiba balsam ● Copal ● Corneiba balsam (Schinus terebinthifolius or Lithraea brasiliensis) ● Damar ● Dragon's blood (Calamus draco) ● Elemi ● Frankincense (Olibanum) ● Galbanum ● Guayac (Guaiacum officinale) ● Guggul ● Gurjun balsam ● Imbauba balsam (Cecropia adenopus) ● Labdanum ● Mastic ● Myrrh ● Obira balsam (Apocynaceae) ● Opopanax ● Umiri balsam (Humiria floribunda) ● Rosin (Colophony) ● Sagapenum ● Sandarac ● Sarcocolla ● Storax balsam ● Turpentine ● Venice turpentine (Larch turpentine) (Larix europaea) ● Wallaba balsam (Eperua sp.)
Final Word According to Elena Vosnaki : "The distinction between resin and balsam is one of form, on a fundamental level: Simply put and generalizing, resinous materials come in the form of solidified, gum-like "tears" seeping from the elixir vitae circulating into the bark of big trees, such as the Boswellia Carteri (which produces frankincense). Balsams on the other hand are tricky materials, not necessarily tree secretions, often coming as they do from flower pods or bushy twigs (such as vanilla orchids or the Mediterranean rockrose). But there are exceptions to every rule: Opopanax, though resinous smelling itself, actually comes from a herb, opopanax chironium. So the real focus when referencing balsamic and resinous terminology is how the materials actually smell and how they're different or common in scent, rather than what their origin is. Therefore, for ease, resinous & balsamic materials are classified into 3 distinct olfactory profiles according to their aromatic properties first and foremost."
Balsams such as benzoin, peru balsam, tolu balsam and labdanum are sweeter and softer. They're gentler and enveloping and add a fixative quality to florals. Resins like frankincense, myrrh, oppoponax and styrax are widely used in incense and have a more defined characteristic. They're usually antiseptic so have a medicinal quality to them. These materials are the basis for Oriental and Amber perfumes, some of the first perfumes, created since antiquity. In ancient Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Mesopotamia and classical Rome resins and balsams were combined with sweet and pungent spices and exotic flowers to create perfume for the gods