Copaifera species

Herbs gallery - Copaiba

Common names

  • Balsam Copaiba
  • Copaiba
  • Copal
  • Jesuit's Balsam
  • Mal-dos-sete-dias

Copaiba is an oversized legume (a plant in the family Fabaceae or Leguminosae) native to the humid or tropical climatic regions of South America. This giant tree bearing edible seeds is found in abundance in Columbia, Brazil and Venezuela. Though it may appear incredible, this tropical legume grows to a height of 60 feet to 100 feet (20 meters to 30 meters). The resins of this tree that collects in the cracks on the trunk are used for remedial purposes. The copaiba tree is basically tapped in the same manner as the rubber tree. When the resin from the tree is amassed, the liquid is refined to garner the essential oils from it. The thick, transparent exudates vary in color from light gold to dark brown, depending on the ratio of resin to essential oil.

The copaiba trees bear numerous white, petite flowers that appear on extended panicles and small fruit pods each enclosing two to four seeds. In all, there are as many as 35 species of Copaifera species that are mostly found in different parts of the South American rain forests, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. A number of different species of Copaifera are used in traditional herbal medications reciprocally. While C. langsdorffii is mainly found in the cerrados (a type of plains community distinguished by vegetation ranging from tropical broadleaf woodlands to scrublands) of central Brazil, C. reticulata is native to the Amazon region. Another species, C. officinalis grows extensively all over South America, including the Amazon. All these three species of Copaifera are used correspondently.

The oleoresin (resin) is the part of the tree that is generally used for medicinal purposes. The oleoresin gathers in the cavities in the trunk of the trees. This resin is collected by tapping or making holes into the timber of the trunk, while the resin that drips from the tree is collected in the same way as maple syrup is harvested. One copaiba tree is usually capable to yielding around 40 liters of oleoresin every year and this makes harvesting of oleoresin an acceptable resource of the rain forest as it can be collected without wiping out the trees or the forest where they grow naturally. Initially, the oleoresin is oily, clear, dilute and transparent or colorless when tapped. As soon as this resin comes in contact with the atmosphere, it turns thick and transforms into a dark colored substance. The copaiba resin that is sold on the market is a thick and translucent liquid and its color ranges from light yellow to golden pale brown. The quality of oleoresin collected from the copaiba trees in Venezuela is comparatively thicker and has a darker color. Though the resins harvested from the copaiba trees are usually mentioned as a balsam or oil, in reality it is simply an oleoresin.

Parts used



Native tribes inhabiting Rio Solimoes in northwest Amazonia apply the oleoresin from the copaiba trees externally to heal wounds, stop bleeding, and cure skin sores and psoriasis and also as a remedy for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. Even to this day, therapist and folk healers in the Amazon region use the oleoresin from the copaiba trees to treat all kinds of pain, skin problems and insect bites. They also use this resin to calm irritation or inflammation.

In Brazil, traditional herbal medicine practitioners use the resin of copaiba as a potent antiseptic and expectorant (cough medicine) for the respiratory tract to cure conditions, such as bronchitis and sinusitis. They also utilize the copaiba oleoresin as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic medication to treat disorders of the urinary tract, such as cystitis, bladder and kidney contagions, and also as an external anti-inflammatory medicine to cure all kind of skin conditions. Pharmacies in Brazil sell the copaiba resin in the form of gel capsules that is prescribed for different kinds of internal inflammation (tenderness and swelling), stomach ulcers as well as cancers. People in Brazil use this resin as an antiseptic gargle to treat aching throats and tonsillitis. It is a very popular home-made remedy in this region and is prepared by adding 15 drops of the resin in warm water.

Traditional herbal medicine healers in Peru blend three to four drops of the copaiba resin with a spoonful of honey and recommend this mixture as a natural remedy for tender throats. They also use the oleoresin to lessen inflammation as well as augment urination. In addition, the copaiba resin finds its use as a remedy for incontinence (inability to hold back natural discharges or evacuations of urine or feces), urinary disorders, stomach ulcers, tetanus, sexually transmitted disease syphilis, bronchitis, herpes, pleurisy, tuberculosis, catarrh (inflammation of a mucous membrane accompanied by excessive secretions, specially of the respiratory tract), hemorrhages and leishmaniasis (any infection caused by a protozoan of the genus Leishmania) where it is applied as a plaster.

The earliest mention of the remedial use of copaiba oleoresin was made in the European medicine way back in 1625. This was first introduced in Europe by the Jesuits who carried it from the new European settlements in South America and hence, was initially also known as Jesuit's balsam. Since then, the oleoresin of the copaiba tree has been used to heal chronic cystitis, chronic diarrhea, and bronchitis as well as applied externally for hemorrhoids. During the period between 1820 and 1910, the copaiba oleoresin was an official drug in the United States in the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

Renowned ethno-botanist and author Mark Plotkin has written that the essential oil (oleoresin) of copaiba was used by the people in the United States as a diuretic, disinfectant, and laxative. Besides, the oleoresin was also used in the production of cosmetics and soaps. On the other hand, the Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients refers to copaiba oleoresin possessing antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, disinfectant as well as tonic properties. In addition, the copaiba oleoresin is also said to have anti-fungal activities.

It has been found that the copaiba oleoresin provides quick relief from skin inflammation and irritation. Shampoos containing the copaiba oleoresin are effective in eradicating dandruff. In addition, this herb has been utilized to cure basal cell carcinoma - the most widespread type of skin cancer. Copaiba oleoresin is also said to have a beneficial influence on mucous membranes.

The oleoresin from the copaiba tree has precise benefits for different health condition and they are as follows:

The herb is useful for treating conditions like arthritis, gonorrhea, eczema, herpes, psoriasis and the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. It has been found that copaiba oleoresin alleviates the symptoms of an assortment of ailments that result in inflammation of soft tissue or the mucus membranes in the body. Trials conducted in laboratories have demonstrated that this oleoresin works by diminishing the accessibility of the walls of the blood vessels to histamine - the chemical that causes painful swelling in all such conditions. Copaiba oleoresin is a volatile oil that possesses antimicrobial properties and puts off secondary contagions in conditions, such as herpes, eczema and psoriasis.

All the traditional herbal medicines that make use of the copaiba oleoresin use this substance in small doses when recommended for internal usage. The normal dosage of copaiba oleoresin for internal use varies from five to 15 drops (around 0.5 ml to 1 ml) taken once to three times every day. When medications prepared with this herb is taken in large doses it results in vomiting, nausea, as well as fever and skin rash akin to measles. According to a French dermatologist, such adverse aftereffects may also occur in sensitive persons when copaiba oleoresin is absorbed through the skin. Nevertheless, health authorities in the United States have approved the use of the herb as a food additive as well as a flavoring agent in foods and beverages, albeit in small measures. In addition, the perfume industry uses copaiba oleoresin as a fixative in preparing scents.

Presently, copaiba oleoresin is mainly used in the United States as an aroma constituent in preparing perfumes and in cosmetics, including bubble baths, soaps, creams, lotions and detergents owing to the herb's anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and emollient or soothing and softening features. Presently, the natural health practitioners are just starting to learn about the numerous ways that this significant rain forest supply is used in the different herbal medicine systems in South America and are also just commencing to include them in their medical practice in the United States and elsewhere. When the copaiba oleoresin is used carefully and in small measures, it is a fantastic natural therapy for treating stomach ulcers, all types of inflammation, nail fungus (applied externally) and for its proven properties, such as healing wounds, antimicrobial and anti-cancer.

Copaiba oleoresin (5-15 drops) is added to a cup of hot water and taken twice or thrice daily in South America to treat different disorders. The copaiba oleoresin is applied directly on the skin to treat skin disorder and injuries. Usually, the medication for external use is prepared by adding one part of copaiba oleoresin to five parts of glycerin or grape seed oil. In addition, copaiba oleoresin is also used externally as a massage oil to heal aching or inflamed muscles and joints. The massage oil is normally prepared by blending one part of copaiba oleoresin with 10 parts of carrier oil, such as almond or grape seed oil. Copaiba oleoresin is applied in packed potency directly on the affected areas without diluting it in any other oil or glycerin for treating nail fungus and skin cancer.


It is important to note that thus far, most of the clinical trials conducted with copaiba oleoresin have authenticated the claims of the traditional herbal medicine practitioners who have been recommending the use of this herb internally as well as externally to treat various conditions. Animal studies undertaken by scientists in Brazil in 2002 have confirmed that copaiba oleoresin is highly effectual in healing wounds when applies externally. This herb has been used both internally and externally to treat all types of inflammations since long and the clinical trials conducted with copaiba oleoresin have confirmed the herb's anti-inflammatory actions against a variety of laboratory-induced inflammation in several other animal studies. Findings of researches have attributed the anti-inflammatory consequences of copaiba oleoresin to sesquiterpene compounds present in the essential oil. In fact, scientists have discovered that the sesquiterpene compounds in copaiba oleoresin not only differ from trees of one species to another, but also in the trees belonging to the same species as well as the individual copaiba trees.

Even the proportion of sesquiterpene chemicals present in different species of copaiba trees as well as individual copaiba trees may range from 30 per cent to as high as 90 per cent. This factor may be responsible for the results attained by other researchers in Brazil who examined eight dissimilar commercial samples of copaiba oleoresin and just three of these eight commercial samples showed considerable anti-inflammatory actions. Among these sesquiterpene chemicals, most researchers have conducted trials with caryophyllene, which has shown to possess properties that alleviate pain. In addition, this sesquiterpene chemical has also demonstrated anti-fungal properties against nail fungus and anti-inflammatory as well as gastro-protective features in many different species of animals.

Scientists had recognized the gastro-protective actions of caryophyllene in 1996. This action of copaiba oleoresin aids in substantiating another conventional use of this substance - a natural and accepted cure for stomach ulcers. During the course of this trial on animals, caryophyllene not only proved to possess considerable anti-inflammatory activities without harming the stomach membrane, but also significantly slowed down harm to the stomach caused by different chemicals. In fact, majority of other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents result in various stomach problems. Another group of scientists reported about two years later that administering natural copaiba oleoresin to rodents offered a dose-dependent, important fortification against chemical and stress-induced gastric injury. At the same time, caryophyllene demonstrated that it possessed properties to counteract against ulcers.

To some extent copaiba oleoresin's anti-bacterial properties recognized by scientists in the 1960s and 1970s partially explains the herbal medication's use as an antiseptic for tender throats, upper respiratory tract and urinary tract contagions. In 2000 and 2002, other researchers validated that copaiba oleoresin as a whole and especially two of its diterpene constituents  kaurenic acid and copalic acid - showed considerable in vitro antimicrobial actions against gram-positive bacteria. Chemical present in the herb - kaurenic acid - also showed selective anti-bacterial actions against gram-positive bacteria in other studies with the substance undertaken recently.

A new and latest area of scientific study involving copaiba oleoresin has emphasized on the anti-cancer and anti-tumor aspects of the herb. In 1994, a group of scientists in Tokyo studying the properties of copaiba segregated six chemicals - clerodane diterpenes - present in copaiba oleoresin and examined them against carcinomas or malignant growths in rodents with a view to find out their anti-tumor effects. One specific chemical, named kolavenol, was found to be twice as effectual in augmenting the lifespan of rodents with carcinomas in comparison to the usual chemotherapy medication - 5-Fluorouacil (5-FU). In effect, during the course of their research, the scientists discovered that the chemical called kolavenol increased the life span of mice by as much as 98 per cent in case of being affected by malignant growths! The copaiba oleoresin also augmented the life duration by 82 per cent that was found to be much higher compared to 5-FU. In fact, administration of 5-FU in mice affected by carcinomas only increased their life span by a mere 46 per cent. It is interesting to note that the in vitro examination offered better anti-tumor activities compared to the earlier scientific studies conducted in test tubes.

The team of researchers from Spain that recognized the anti-bacterial actions of copaiba oleoresin in 2002 also conducted tests for two in vitro anti-tumor actions of the herb. According to these researchers, a new phytochemical present in copaiba oleoresin - methyl copalate - possessed in vitro actions against malignant growths in human lungs, human melanoma (any of the different kinds of skin tumors distinguished by the malignant growth of melanocytes), and human colon carcinoma as well as mouse lymphoid neoplasm cell lines. In 2002, a group of scientists in Brazil stated that one active chemical present in copaiba oleoresin - kaurenoic acid - also slowed down the development of leukemic cells in humans by 95 per cent and human breast and colon cancer cell growth by 45 per cent in vitro. It has been found that kaurenoic acid may consist of natural copaiba oleoresin to the extent of 1.4 per cent.


Copaiba oleoresin encloses almost 15 per cent volatile oil, while the remaining constituents include resins and acids. Copaiba oleoresin's active biological aspects are attributed to a group of phytochemicals known as sesquiterpenes (in effect, more than 50 per cent of the oleoresin may comprise sesquiterpenes), terpenic acids and diterpenes. These compounds comprise calamenene, caryophyllene, and copalic, copaiferolic, coipaiferic, hardwickic and kaurenoic acids. A number of these chemicals are original compounds present exclusively in copaiba. In fact, copaiba oleoresin is the greatest known natural source of caryophyllene, containing almost 480,000 parts in every million. It may be noted here that caryophyllene is a very familiar plant chemical that has been recognized for its potent anti-inflammatory consequences, among several other activities.

Among other substances, the major chemicals present in copaiba oleoresin include alpha-bergamotene, alpha-multijugenol, alpha- cubebene, alpha-selinene, alloaromadendrene, ar-curcumene, beta-cubebene, betao-bisabolene, beta-famesene, beta-elemene, beta-muurolene, beta-humulene, calamesene, calamenene, caryophyllenes, carioazulene, copaene, coipaiferic acid, copaiferolic acid, copaibic acids, copalic acid, cyperene, delta-elemene, delta-cardinene, enantio-agathic acid, gamma-elmene, gama-cadinene, gamma-humulene, kaurenoic acids, illurinic acid, kolavenol 1, kaurenic acid, maracaibobalsam, paracopaibic acids, methyl copalate, polyalthic acid as well as trans-alpha-bergamotene.

Side effects and cautions

Although copaiba oleoresin possesses several therapeutic properties, its use may also result in some adverse side effects and, hence, people using the herb need to exercise some precautions. While using medications prepared with or containing copaiba oleoresin, you need to avoid its contact with eyes and mucous membranes as the herb may function as an aggravation. In addition, individuals susceptible to copaiba oleoresin may endure rash along with irritation, prickling and/ or stinging - something akin to having measles, when they use the herbal preparation externally or consume it. In case such side effects occur, it is advisable to stop using medications prepared with copaiba oleoresin.

It is advisable never to take large doses, in excess of 5 ml, when taking medications prepared with or containing copaiba oleoresin. People taking large dosages of this herb have often complained of vomiting, nausea, rashes and fever. When such side effects occur after taking copaiba oleoresin medication, it is advisable to either lower the dosage of the medication or discontinue with it. Consult your healthcare provider when such adverse aftereffects occur, persist or worsen.

It may be noted that scientific studies have recognized one compound present in copaiba oleoresin to result in the breaking down of red blood cells with liberation of hemoglobin or hemolysis in humans as well as rodents in vitro. Since this action of copaiba oleoresin has not been researched in vitro, it is advisable to steer clear of prolonged oral usage of medications prepared with or containing the herb unless you are directly being supervised by a physician who is able to keep an eye on this potential consequence.

For those who desire to use this herb, copaiba oleoresin is marketed in the form of oil as well as shampoo for external usage. On the other hand, a tincture prepared with copaiba oleoresin is also available with pharmacies and drug stores for internal use. It may be mentioned here that several useful healthcare products are also available in a combination of copaiba oleoresin and the balsam of Tolu. In case you have allergic reactions to balsam of Tolu or any preparations containing it, you ought to ensure that you always use pure copaiba oil or copaiba oleoresin.


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