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What is Copaiba?

Botanical Name: Copaifera sp. Origin: Camino Verde, Peru

Native to: Peru, Bolivia and Brazil

Copaiba trees are well known throughout tropical regions for their durable wood, medicinal and cosmetic uses. Making the genus commercially attractive, and also its mysteriously potent and highly sought-after oleoresin. A resin that is widely extracted and used in Amazonian communities.

Unlike most tree oils, which are extracted from fruits or seeds, Copaiba oil is collected by tapping the center of the tree's trunk in a process that, when done correctly, does not harm the tree. The resulting oleo-resin has been used for centuries in traditional medicines in tropical regions for treating urinary, respiratory, skin, and inflammatory diseases and as a pain reliever. The copaiba tree timber is of excellent quality, putting pressure on communities to log it as a valuable forest product. The oleoresin, notoriously adulterated with vegetable oil in most markets, is often a product of deforestation, with oil collection representing a secondary product when a tree is felled. Like many other tropical plants, Copaiba products have found their way out of the jungles and into the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries of the world for centuries. They are extensively used to develop ointments, pills, soaps, perfumes, and more. Scientific research continues to confirm these ethnopharmacological uses, and the presence of nonvolatile diterpenoid acids and beta-caryophyllene.

What is beta-Caryophyllene?

Cannabis, black pepper, oregano, basil, and other herbs and spices contain the terpene known as beta-caryophyllene. This terpene has a unique molecular structure that makes it more significant than other terpenes due to its powerful ability to bind with CB2 receptors; beta-caryophyllene has potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. Research has shown that beta-caryophyllene helps reduce anxiety and pain, prevent high cholesterol, and is useful to treat seizures. Additionally, it is thought to help fight bacterial dental plaque buildup and diseases of the brain associated with inflammation.

Image of Copaifera langsdorffii in a park in São Paulo, Brazil. Image by Mauroguanandi

Some refer to copaiba as "the antibiotic of the Amazon rainforest." Its oleoresin is known locally as a powerful medicinal, with traditional use for treating cuts, wounds, stomach ulcers, herpes, tetanus, psoriasis, inflammation, hypotension, pain, and for promoting the rapid formation of scar tissue on the skin.

In addition to its essential medical use, copaiba is used as a timber product and is revered for its incredibly hard wood. The oleoresin is occasionally used as a biofuel to light lanterns in rural Amazonian villages, giving rise to ideas that the tree could produce commercial levels of biodiesel. But this tree is already critically threatened and too crucial as use as medicine. Interestingly, "balsam of copaiba" has been used medicinally and even in alchemy in the Old World since the 16th century. According to News and Notes from the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, No. 8, Fall 2004:

"Copaiba (Brazil and Venezuela) Buried in the usual lists of medicines carried by the Corps of Discovery is “Balsam of Copaiba.” This soothing liquid came trees tapped in the Amazon basin. Although it had other applications, copaiba was mainly used for the treatment of gonorrhea. When consumed internally, it produced a characteristic odor to a patient’s urine and was thought to soothe inflammation caused by venereal disease. As experienced army officers, Lewis and Clark knew they needed to be prepared to treat VD, so they brought along copaiba, calomel, and penile irrigation syringes." Studies draw attention to the critical fact that the oleoresin of copaiba can only be harvested once in a tree's lifetime, or possibly twice – which is very little compared to abundant running saps like maple or birch. Conventionally, the oil is usually collected before the tree is cut for its wood. Most of the copaiba resin sold on the market comes directly from the deforestation of the species in the wild, leading to the tree's threatened status. We source our limited resin from Camino Verde, a reforestation leader in the Southern Amazon of Peru. The oil is limited and only harvested when trees meet certain growth and health standards.

If you are inspired to help save this tree, consider donating to Camino Verde's work or try one of our limited supply copaiba products.

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