Benzoin (Malay, kaminian), the gum benjamin of commerce, an odorous resin extracted from the styrax benzoin, a tree which attains a considerable height, and is the peculiar product of Bencoojen, Batak, and Palembang territories, in Sumatra, and Brunai territory in Borneo. The tree is cultivated and raised from the small brown nut which it produces. When the plant has attained its fourth year and its stem has a diameter of eight inches on the E. coast of Sumatra, and six years and ten inches diameter on the W. coast, it begins to yield its best sap, which flows from the bark, and which is obtained by making an incision therein near the ground. That obtained during the first two years after tapping is of a creamy or light saffron tint, and is soft and fragrant; for two or three years more it produces an inferior quality, of reddish hue, and harder than the best; after this time the sap ceases to flow, the tree is cut down, and a very inferior resin is obtained by scraping the inner surface of the bark and the stem. From the Batak country it is brought to the markets on the W. coast of Sumatra in cakes called tampang, of different weights, and these cakes constitute the chief currency of the Bataks, who do not make use of coined money.
The benzoin obtained in Palembang territory is mainly collected by wild tribes in the lowest state of civilization, the Kubu in the Rawas and Ba-tang-Lekoh districts, and the Kumring further south. The Palembang resin is generally of an inferior quality, being mostly spontaneous exudations of wild trees, collected by these wild tribes. The resin is used as an incense in Greek and Roman Catholic churches. It is sometimes employed in medicine, being considered a valuable expectorant and stimulant, and still more in perfumery. The odor of the best resin somewhat resembles that of the vanilla bean. Being soluble in spirits, and not in water, it is erroneously called a gum. Its density varies according to quality, from 1.063 to 1.092. Besides benzoic and cinnamic acid and a small quantity of essential oil, it contains three different kinds of resins, which have not yet been employed in the arts. It is used in several kinds of fine varnishes and lacquer work, on canes and snuff-boxes, which emit a faint vanilla odor when warmed with the hand. - Benzoin is supposed by some writers to be the malabaihrum of the ancients.
Pliny and Dios-corides describe it very accurately; and mention is made in the Periplus of the Erythraean sea of malabathrum, an article of commerce on the Malabar coast, said to be brought from a country further east. Importations into the United States are prohibited unless the drug yields 80 per cent, of resin, or 20 per cent. of benzoic sold.