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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


amber stone
There are three main types of amber, the fossilized resin that is made into jewellery, ambergris, a product of the sperm whale and liquid amber which is a sap which comes from trees of various species and which is also known as storax.
  All have been used in traditional medicines for centuries, and it is confusing to decipher which is meant in some of the texts devoted to “amber” and “amber products.”
   The most common amber is fossilized resin from a long extinct tree which might have been a pine or an araucaria (the Monkey Puzzle Tree belongs to this family).Often this fossilized resin has insects or bits or tree or other organic matter trapped inside it and these have excited paleontologists as they give them an sight into what the fauna and flora were like in prehistory. (Remember the film “Jurassic Park”?)
   These stones washed up on ancient beaches along with ambergris, and they looked similar so it is understandable that the ancients were confused regarding their genesis. Ambergris is not used now as the sperm whale is an endangered species. However ambergris came to refer to the stone as well as the product of the sperm whale.
amber resin
   Amber, the stone, was regarded as having good luck properties and used to make amulets which could ward off the evil eye. It has been discovered that the succinic acid derived from amber has a positive effect on the human body and has bacterial agents, which may explain why cigarette holders and mouth-pieces for pipes were made from it. It helps boost feelings of well being and promotes a general feeling of good health. Amber can be burned and may be used as incense, although the storax resin would more commonly be found in “amber” products.
   Ambergris is also reputed as having magical qualities and was used in medicines until the sperm whale was endangered and hunting of it was banned. It could also be burned and gave off a wonderful fragrance.
    Liquid amber comes from the Liquidambar trees, and storax is the product of the tree that commonly grows in Turkey, where it is a native species. This is the Liquidambar orientalis tree. Storax resin is produced by these trees in response to the bark being damaged, in much the same way as oud oil is produced. Storax is also a product of the American Sweetgum tree or Liquidambar styraciflua. This has been used in cough medicines and in a syrup for dysentery and diarrhoea. Storax when it first comes from the tree contains free cinnamic acids which are often extracted for use in the perfume industry. If mixed with olive oil storax can help cure ringworm, scabies and other skin diseases. It has been used as a substitute for copaiba (from South America) for treatment of some STDs, such as gonorrhea.
amber resin
   In China and other parts of Asia an aromatic resin is produced from the Liquidambar formosana trees, and this is used as incense and traditional medicine. These trees grow in the wild rather than in plantations, so it is difficult for tappers to harvest the resin from these trees, perhaps in future they will be grown in plantations if the West increases its demand for liquid amber as the resin is known. The resin and oil is highly sought-after and this is reflected in its price. Like oud oil it is more expensive than gold currently.
   The leaves of this tree have been fed to silkworms in China rather than those of the white mulberry tree, and the Chinese use the liquid balsam or resin for infections of the bladder, kidney diseases and fevers.
   It isn’t much used in the West because of the difficulties of harvesting the resin; most of it stays in Asia and the Middle East.

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