ELEMI (Canarium luzonicum – Burseraceae)

The oleoresin known as elemi or gum elemi comes from large trees which originated in the Philippines, but which are found in many varieties in Australia, India, South and Central America, and Africa.
Elemi became popular as a medicine in Europe around the sixteenth century, and was referred to as ‘resina elemnia’. It was used for ulcers and skin infections, being added to many skin creams and ointments such as the French baume de Fioravanti and baume paralytique. Another French cure using elemi was l’emplatre (plaster) diachylon: this was used externally to help knit bones. J J Wecker, an early seventeenth-century doctor, found elemi very successful in the treatment of head injuries and wounds. Soldiers of the time were treated with elemi too; sword wounds were deep, but elemi speeded the healing process.


Description: The white oleoresin exudes from the tree bark. It is very similar to turpentine, but of a much thicker consistency. As the oleoresin ages, it becomes Waxy and yellow, losing most of its balsamic smell. Elemi essential oil is obtained by distillation of the oleoresin, and is colourless or a very pale yellow. It smells strongly balsamic, hot and aromatic, due to its main constituent, phellandrene.
The principal constituents: Phellandrene; other terpenes are dipentene, limonene and pinene; and there is 60 – 70 per cent of resinous matter consisting of alcohols and triterpenic acids.


In illness
Elemi mixed into a cream for external application on the broken limbs of older patients is very successful. Rubbed every day into the affected part, I have noted very good results, so avoiding rheumatic pains thereafter (a common occurrence after fractures).

This massage cream is most effective if applied to a fracture as soon as injury has occurred. Add 20 drops of elemi to 50 g (2 oz) thick cold cream slightly warmed. If possible, apply straight to the fresh injury gently massaging it in, then cover with a thick pad of cotton wool and a bandage. Leave for a few hours to achieve a slow penetration.
After a few weeks – perhaps when the plaster cast has been removed – make up the following oil, and massage in twice a day, covering the affected part with a light bandage to keep it warm. Mix 50 ml (2 fl oz) soya oil, 3 drops wheatgerm and 20 drops elemi.

Other uses
Some varieties of elemi are used commercially in the manufacture of plasters, ointments, varnishes and inks.

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