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natural substances composed of essential oils and dissolved resins, aromatic compounds, and other components. Balsams are ordinarily syrupy liquids with an aroma, almost insoluble in water but soluble in some organic solvents (for example, alcohol, ether, chloroform, and benzine). Many balsams are formed in plants as products of normal metabolism—they are found chiefly in peculiar intercellular receptacles or in bark; others are the products of pathological plant activity that appear when the bark is injured but are not present in the plant itself.
Several kinds of oleoresins are also called balsams. They include Canada balsam, which is used in optics and for mounting microscopic preparations, and fir balsam, which is used in optics. Depending on their composition, balsams possess antiseptic, locally irritating, expectorant, and diuretic qualities. The most important balsams in medicine include turpentine, copaiba, balsam of Tolu, and balsam of Peru. Turpentine is extracted from pine bark. Turpentine oil (spirits of turpentine) is obtained by distillation from turpentine or pine resin and is used in ointments and liniments as a local irritant. Its fumes, which ozonize the air, are inhaled or sprayed in a room for the treatment of such diseases as putrid bronchitis and gangrene of the lungs.
Copaiba is extracted from the trees of the genus Copaifera, which grow in South America (Venezuela, the Guianas, and Brazil). It is used as a disinfectant for inflammations of the urinary bladder and in the treatment of eczema and gonorrhea. Balsam of Tolu is extracted from the trees Toluifera balsamum and Myroxylon toluiferum, which grow in South America. It is used in pharmaceutical practice to provide an aromatic coating for pills. Balsam of Peru (Shostakovskii balsam) is a synthetic preparation—polyvinyl butyl ester—used as a coating, anti-inflammatory agent, externally in the treatment of wounds and dermatitides, and internally in the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and other ailments.