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
Wintergreen Essential Oil : (Gaultheria fragrantissima or Gaultheria procumbens) Method of extraction: water or steam distillation. Plant used: leaves. Color: clear to pale yellow. Consistency: thin. Aroma note: top. Strength of aroma: Strong. Wintergreen is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a member of the mint family partly because it possesses a strong, crisp, mint-like aroma. Aromatic Description: Crisp, fresh, woody, sweet, birch-like aroma. Major Constituents: Methyl salicylate: 96.0-99.5%, an ester that can be toxic when not used with great care.
Comparing Aspirin and Wintergreen
The chemical name of Aspirin is acetyl salicylic acid and it is a synthetic derivative of salicylic acid. Wintergreen essential oil is 96-99% methyl salicylate, an ester that can be toxic when not used with great care. Salicylates are known to be pain relievers and blood thinners. Though both Aspirin and Wintergreen come from salicylates, Wintergreen is much stronger.
Oral Use of Wintergreen
Taken orally Wintergreen essential oil is rapidly absorbed and in 30 minutes 40% of the methyl salicylate was found in blood plasma. Once absorbed, salicylates cross rapidly into all bodily fluids including saliva and milk. Salicylates cross with ease into the placenta and are thus contraindicated in pregnant women. Depending on the dosage, oral Wintergreen could be extremely toxic.
Methyl salicylate directly or indirectly affects most organ systems. The potential toxic effects are :
Pediatric exposures to methyl salicylate continues to be a problem. Oil of Wintergreen in the form of candy flavoring was ingested by a 21 month old boy who developed vomiting, lethargy and rapid respirations but recovered rapidly with IV fluids and sodium bicarbonate (Howrie et al, 1985). Oil of Wintergreen continues to be an ingredient in teething gel. Accidents and death have been reported in children under the age of 6 from using medicated oils containing methyl salicylate. (Davis, 2007)
Drug Interactions using Wintergreen
In addition to the above toxic results with oral use of Wintergreen, it also has untoward drug interactions. The salicylic acid of Aspirin has the effect of blood thinning. A baby Aspirin 81 mg is recommended daily to act as a mild blood thinner to prevent cardiovascular blood clots. The methyl salicylate in Wintergreen has the same blood thinning effect only much stronger than aspirin. This occurs both with oral and topical use of Wintergreen. It would be contraindicated for someone taking blood thinners such as Wayfarin and Coumadin.
Topical Use of Wintergreen Essential Oil
The topical use of Wintergreen is less toxic but still of concern. In a massage oil blend methyl salicylate is found in the blood 20 to 30 minutes after application. A massage oil blend should not contain more than 1-2% Wintergreen. Continuous use seems the most worrying for toxicity. A subject who was daily applying a herbal skin cream containing methyl salicylate for his psoriasis became quite suddenly and acutely unwell, with tinnitus, vomiting, rapid respiration and typical acid/base disturbance; a classical presentation of salicylate poisoning. His open skin lesions and covering with layers enhanced the absorption. (Bell and Duggin, 2002) Even a low level but prolonged use of salicylates during pregnancy has caused reduced weights at birth, increase in perinatal mortality, anemia, and complicated deliveries. It is definitely prohibited during pregnancy.
Wintergreen Oil Properties: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and warming. It is used in joint Inflammation, pain management, and rheumatoid arthritis. [Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (Australia: The Perfect Potion, 2003), 324.]
Wintergreen Essential Oil is praised for its ability to reduce pain and inflammation. However, it must be used sparingly and with great caution as numerous reports of poisoning have occurred. See the Safety Information section below for more details on contraindications.
Salvatore Battaglia writes that Wintergreen Essential Oil is typically produced by first soaking wintergreen leaves in warm water. Interestingly, Battaglia and other sources indicate that methyl salicylate is not present in fresh wintergreen leaves. When the leaves are soaked in water, the methyl salicylate is produced as a result of the decomposition of the leaves. If choosing to use Wintergreen Essential Oil, be certain to purchase the oil from a highly reputable company because synthetic methyl salicylate is sometimes passed off as pure Wintergreen Essential Oil.
[Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (Australia: The Perfect Potion, 2003), 324.]
Commercial Products containing Wintergreen Oil
Many toilet bowl cleaners contain Wintergreen in small amounts usually 0.5 – 4.0%. Listerine Mouth Wash contains 0.6 % and is probably safe to use. But many of the Nilador Air Fresheners contain as much as 13 %. Breathing this day after day could become internally toxic. Especially for someone taking a blood thinner.
In Aromatherapy, use Wintergreen essential oil sparingly if at all. Numerous reports of poisoning have occurred. Tisserand and Young warn that Wintergreen Essential Oil poses a hazard for toxicity, drug interaction, it can inhibit blood clotting, and high doses are teratogenic (harmful to fetuses and embryos). Avoid use of Wintergreen with children, during pregnancy and breastfeeding and by those taking anticoagulant medication. They recommend a dermal maximum of 2.4% and advise to use with caution with skin that is sensitive or damaged.
The hazards of the use of Wintergreen are linked to its toxicity, to the risks of interactions with prescriptions drugs, and with pathological conditions such as hematological disorders and renal problems. Particularly problematic is the chronic toxicity which might develop weeks or months after using the products and which can be difficult to spot It can be safely stated then that Wintergreen and all methyl salicylate containing essential oils such as Birch essential oil should never be used on children, pregnant and lactating women, and people with chronic blood disorders. As there are many wonderful anti-inflammatory essential oils that do not pose these risks, I would avoid adding it to your massage blends.
The International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy, Vol. 4, Issue 3, Winter 2015. “A Short Review of Wintergreen / Methyl Salicylate Toxicity” by Marco Valussi, BSc Herbal Medicine, UK.
Sources cited in Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Essential Oil Safety (Second Edition. United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014), 469.]
Wintergreen Essential Oil
There are articles available on line on the effect of Magnesium Oil. I have had several clients tell me it has relieved pain, improved dry skin, and even slowed hair loss while stimulating hair growth on the scalp.
What is Magnesium Oil?
There are four essential electrolytes that support cell metabolism: Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium. Sodium and Potassium regulate the flow of fluids across the cell membrane. Magnesium and Calcium help to maintain circulation, build bones and muscles and relax nerves. Magnesium is found in dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Many Calcium supplements also include Magnesium. But for those who do not absorb Magnesium well orally, or have a digestive disorder, Magnesium Spray could help. Based on the studies of the well-known neurologist and pain management expert, Dr. Sheehy, Magnesium Chloride is well absorbed by the skin. In Dr. Sheehy’s research he has observed the following effects of Magnesium Chloride.
Further comments from Dr. Sheehy:
“Magnesium supplementation is actually crucial for everyone today but we have to pay special attention to the method of supplementation because this is critical in terms of effective body utilization. Magnesium is poorly absorbed orally, however when Magnesium Chloride is applied transdermally (applied to the skin), it is the ideal magnesium delivery system with unequaled medical benefits.
Coaches can now treat injuries, prevent them, and increase athletic performance all at the same time. Magnesium Spray enhances recovery from athletic activity or injuries. It reduces pain and inflammation while propagating quicker regeneration of tissues. Topical application of Magnesium Chloride increases flexibility, which helps avoid injury. It also increases strength and endurance.
Pain relief and muscle relaxation for people with arthritis and muscle cramping is an important and significant benefit of Magnesium. Applied directly to the skin, it alleviates chronic pain, muscle cramps, and in general makes our job of opening up and softening muscles and connective tissue much easier. Magnesium is a potent vasodilator, and smooth muscle relaxant.”
Ojai Healing Essentials Magnesium Oil
Though not yet on the website, I have created my own Magnesium Oil.
Description: Magnesium chloride flakes, though diluted in distilled water has an oily feeling. It is watery and salty.
Apply two teaspoons to skin twice daily. Generally this amounts to 2 -3 sprays. Do not wash off for at least 20 minutes. Daily application recommended for relief of arthritic pain.
Warning: Do not apply to eyes, sensitive, broken or cut skin, or rashes. The Magnesium Oil Spray is salty. Avoid if pregnant. Keep out of reach of children. Toxic if swallowed.
Contents: Magnesium chloride flakes, distilled water, essential oils Grapefruit, Orange, and Geraniium.
Magnesium Chloride Spray 4 oz. $7.00
How does the body recognize essential oils?
Many clients ask about applying essential oils:
Essential oils cannot be compared to any product or medication that is made in a laboratory. Though there is much information now about the constituents of each essential oil, there is still much that is unknown. Many effects of essential oils cannot be explained or proven scientifically, nor can they be copied. Lavender, for example, contains over 1200 bio chemicals, which accounts for the stunning healing effects on a variety of complaints.
Essential oils, coming from plants, have evolved over millions of years. And for thousands of years humans have inhaled, eaten, and worn plants for nutrition, medicine, and protection. Our very cells evolved from plants and have receptors that recognize these fragrances and constituents. Unlike synthetic substances, “essential oils do not act as weapons but as agents of interaction. They are a key ingredient of life itself, strengthening its fabric. Since plants do not move or speak, the need to relate to other plants and animals was answered by developing molecules that trigger physiological responses in other organisms. To reach this degree of efficiency, molecules underwent intense molecular modeling over long periods of biological evolution and thus reflect the genius of life itself.” 
Essential oils are highly concentrated, thus we must apply them carefully in small amounts. The assumption that applying a large quantity of an essential oil or a massage blend will result in a greater effect has been proven not to be true. In fact, when diluted and in small amounts, the effect is greater. When the molecules see too many molecules of its own kind, they become inactive. In addition, using large amounts at a time could result in the user becoming sensitive to the ingredients. This can be explained by imagining that humans evolved ingesting and inhaling very small amounts of these substances over thousands of years.
Each bottle of essential oil has a small plug called an orifice reducer. By inverting the bottle the orifice reducer allows the essential oil to come out drop by drop. When determining an application, to be able to count out the drops is crucial. All my single essential oils (undiluted), diffuser blends (more than one undiluted essential oil blended together), and massage oil blends (more than one essential oil diluted in a carrier oil) have an orifice reducer. Clients have told me the drops come out so slowly, they take out the orifice reducer and pour the contents into their hands. Thus they are applying far more than is needed. For the reasons outlined above, this is not recommended. Patience and consistent use of small amounts over time produces the best results.
I hope everyone enjoyed the Holidays as much as I did visiting with family and friends. As we begin 2016, let’s stay as healthy as possible. Currently, we find colds and flu making their rounds. I am offering a one-time special on Thieves Diffuser Blend well known for its anti-microbial effect. Details on the use of Thieves is in the Healing Essential January Newsletter featuring Clove Oil. There are links to all newsletters here in the website.
In future blogs, I will cover various ways essential oils can be applied and the appropriate percentages.
May each and every one have a Joyful and Happy 2016!
 The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils by Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD, pgs. 33,34, 12, 130.
Dear Aromatherapy Friends,
This is an exciting moment for me as I launch my Ojai Healing Essentials website. For many years I have enjoyed creating and using essential oil remedies both in my nursing practice and business. A brief history of my background can be found on the "About" page in the menu bar at the top of the page.
The world of aromatherapy is fascinating and new information regarding essential oils comes out constantly. I am planning to use this blog page to keep us updated on the latest information. Also am hoping readers will feel free to post comments and ask questions regarding the use and background of essential oils. I will do my best to answer your inquiries as we all strive to understand these wondeful essenses.
For private comments and questions regarding products and therapies, use my email on the Contact page.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Pat Wing, RN, IAC (Integrated Aromatherapy Certified)