This extraordinary and valuable production is supposed to be the only known instance of a perfectly volatile liquid obtainable without the aid of art. It is yielded by a tree of considerable height, which is found in the vast forests that cover the flat and fertile regions between the Oronooko and the Parime, in South America. The wood of this tree is aromatic, compact in its texture, and of a brownish colour, and its roots abound with essential oil. The oil is procured by striking with an axe the proper vessels in the internal layers of the bark; while a calabash is held to receive the fluid which gushes out in such abundance, that several quarts may be caught from a single incision, if the operation be performed with dexterity. In many respects the native oil resembles the essential obtained by expression, distillation, and other artificial processes: it is, however, more volatile and highly rectified than any of them, its specific gravity hardly exceeding that of alcohol. When pure it is colourless and transparent; its taste is warm and pungent; its odour aromatic, and closely allied to that of the oily and resinous juice of the conifera. It is volatile, and evaporates without residuum at the ordinary atmospheric temperature.
It is inflammable, and, except when mixed with alcohol, gives out in its combustion a dense smoke. Neither the acids nor the alkalies seem to exert any sensible action upon the native oil; when combined, however, with sulphuric acid, the mixture assumes a momentary brownish tinge, but soon regains its transparency. The oil of laurel dissolves camphor, caoutchouc, wax, and resins, and readily combines with volatile and fixed oils. It is insoluble in water; soluble in alcohol and ether, though the specific gravity of the oil exceeds that of ether; the compound formed by combining them in the proportion of part of the former to two of the latter floats upon the surface of pure ether; and may, therefore, be the lightest of all known fluids. To the chemist, and the vegetable physiologist in particular, native oil of laurel, elaborated by the unassisted hand of nature, in a state of purity which the operose processes of art may equal, but cannot surpass, presents an interesting subject of inquiry, and a wide field of speculation.