Resins and Balsams

My recent class on the Spice Route has me surrounded by various resins and balsams.  They're a principal ingredient in Oriental perfumes and have been used as a fixative since the dawn of the spice route.  I've looked up the definitions of both, as well as gum and oleoresin, and they all appear to be the same.  

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." 
Styrax from the Liquidambar orientalis tree,
smells a little like cinnamon and glue.

In my mind 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.

I'll be hosting and Oriental/Amber perfume workshop in July in my home studio.  Email me for more information or to register.
Amber resin