A new and unique Benzoin resin on the market
Styrax Sumatrana is a type of Benzoin resin that has never been available on the international market. Locally called Kemenyan Toba, the Sumatrana Benzoin tree grows only in a small area of Northern Sumatra and, in the past, was sold exclusively to local markets. It is unique in that it has a more pronounced floral/rose note than the other Benzoin types, and its collection is an example of small communities working hand in hand with local forests for their mutual benefit.
Medicine, perfume and incense
Benzoin is a traditional medicine in many cultures. It is used as an expectorant and wound healer. Like many other tree resins, Benzoin has an affinity with the skin and is used to address dry, chafed, chapped, cracked and rough skin, nipples and heels. It is one of the ingredients in Friars Balsam, a compound tincture used internally for coughs and respiratory irritations and externally for minor wounds. Benzoin is an incense material used worldwide and usually blended with other ingredients. It is a component in traditional incense formulas of the Orthodox Church and is often found in the “Rock” type Arabian Bakhour bricks. It is used as a flavour ingredient in food, confection, beverages and tobacco products. It is considered an essential ingredient in Oriental-style perfumes and Amber accords.
From an aromatherapeutic perspective, Benzoin is calming, grounding, and uplifting and helps alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the Benzoin resin family is named An Xi Xiang, meaning “The peaceful rest fragrance”.
Pronounced floral notes
When I first smelled this unique Benzoin on the coals, I was reminded of Monastery-type incense blends, many containing Benzoin and rose. The natural presence of these floral notes made me wonder if this resin inspired some of the old Church and Byzantine-era incense blends. Especially considering Indonesia has been trading its resins with the West for over 2000 years.
Collected in harmony with local forests
Styrax Sumatrana resin is collected in the local forests by families and communities that have been doing so for generations. This traditional practice goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. The farming families take care of the forest, replanting trees when needed, and the forest takes care of the farmers by sharing their resin with them and helping them generate an income to sustain their families. It is a sustainable relationship and harvest. A reciprocative relationship.
This greatly contrasts our Western approach to nature’s resources, which is based on taking as much as possible from the land and giving as little back as possible. One can easily see how we have arrived at a global environmental crisis point.
A sustainable harvest that maintains biodiversity
Recently, there has been increasing conflict between governments and big businesses that cut down the forests to plant vast mono-crops, such as timber or Palm oil plantations and the communities whose livelihood has always depended on working with the forests. In some cases, the corporations win, and farmer families are left without their traditional land rights and income, and in some situations, the farmer’s rights are upheld. Purchasing sustainable forest products such as Benzoin Sumatrana resin directly supports the farmer families and maintains healthy biodiversity.
Without a market farmers are losing interest.
Since this resin has traditionally been sold to dwindling local markets, the farmers do not profit as much as their counterparts in the South who sell their resin (Styrax Benzoin) on the international market. The smaller return from a dwindling local market has led to a decline in the number of farmers interested and able to carry on the tradition. Many farmers are turning to more mainstream crops, which require clearing the land and abandoning the old ways of working in harmony with the land.
Will an international market promote healthier land use?
Benzoin Sumatrana farmers believe that if they could sell their Benzoin resin on the international market and receive the same high prices afforded to the mainstream Benzoin resin, it would incentivize more farmers and families to continue practicing this ancient tradition and beneficial relationship with the forests. A sustainable relationship that benefits the land, forests and the local economy. To this end, I am working to promote their product in the West and support their livelihood. Let me know if you want to purchase wholesale quantities of this resin. I will connect you directly to the supplier in Northern Sumatra, who is working to see this unique resin introduced to the international market.
One little thing we can do
This is one little thing we can do to cultivate sustainable management of our aromatic resources and to support remote communities that usually get the short end of the stick. Sometimes the little things add up and make a big difference. We are so focused on quantity, volume and low cost that we no longer take care of the land or those who are its stewards. You can find Sumatrana benzoin in the shop HERE,
Benzoin AKA Frankincense of Java
The name Benzoin is believed to have developed through centuries of intercultural “Broken Telephone”, much like the children’s game that involves whispering a word or phrase to the person next to you and comparing it with what the last person in the line claims they heard.
When Islam came to Indonesia 700 years ago, it was discovered that the native tribes tapped a tree for its aromatic resin, much like the Frankincense trees back home. This resin was fragrant and used for incense and medicine, and came out of the tree white, just like the Luban or Frankincense of the Arabian cultures back home. Thus, the Arabic name of Luban Jawi, or Frankincense of Java was awarded. (Luban is the Arabic name of Frankincense, Luban in Arabic and Levonah in Hebrew both share the same root word, which means “White.”)
When the French encountered this Balsamic resin its name morphed to something more pleasing to the Francophone ear, La Benjawi and later L’Benjoin or Benjoin. The English did not like the ring of it, so they renamed it Gum Benjamin or just Benjamin.
In Africa, Benzoin is still called LubanJawi, Lubanjah, and one finds many variations on the theme when travelling, such as Benjawi, Lubanji Lubanya, Jawee etc..
Benzoin is collected by making a single hole in the tree’s bark and then bruising the surrounding area with the butt of the tool. The resin flows and collects under the bruised tissue. When dry, the bark is peeled off, and the resin is collected.