- Family: Fabaceae
- Genus: Copaifera
- Species: officinalis, langsdorffii, reticulata
- Synonyms: Copaifera jacquinii, C. nitida, C. paupera, C. sellowii, Copaiva officinalis
- Common Names: Copaiba, copaipera, cupayba, copauba, copal, balsam copaiba, copaiva, copaiba-verdadeira, Jesuit’s balsam, copaibeura-de-Minas, cobeni, Matidisguate, matisihuati, mal-dos-sete-dias, aceite de palo, pau-de-oleo, básamo de copayba
Quoted from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs:
Herbal Properties & Actions
Main Actions: Analgesic, anesthetic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antitumor, antiulcerous, astringent, disinfectant, emollient, gastroprotective, laxative, wound healer Other Actions: Expels worms, antacid, cough suppressant, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant Standard Dosage: Resin Internal: 5-15 drops 2-3 times daily External: Apply diluted resin on affected areas. Copaiba trees are considerably branched and grow from 15-30 m high. They produce many small, white flowers on long panicles and small fruit pods with 2-4 seeds inside. There are 35 species of Copaifera, found mainly in tropical South America (particularly in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Guyana, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela). Several different species are used as traditional medicines interchangeably: C. langsdorffii is found mostly in the cerrados of central Brazil, C. reticulata is indigenous to the Amazon region, and C. officinalis occurs widely throughout South America, including the Amazon. All three varieties are used interchangeably. The part of the plant that is often employed medicinally is the oleoresin that accumulates in cavities within the tree trunk. It is harvested by tapping or drilling holes into the wood of the trunk and collecting the resin that drips out, much in the same manner as harvesting maple syrup. A single copaiba tree can provide about 40 liters of oleoresin annually, making it a sustainable rainforest resource that can be harvested without destroying the tree or the forest in which it grows. When tapped, the initial oily resin is clear, thin, and colorless; it thickens and darkens upon contact with air. Commercially sold resins are a thick, clear liquid, with a color that varies from pale yellow to golden light brown. The variety gathered in Venezuela is said to be thicker and darker in color. Although it is often referred to a balsam or oil, it is actually a oleoresin.
Tribal & Herbal Medicine Uses
On the Rio Solimoes in northwest Amazonia, copaiba resin is used topically by indigenous tribes as a wound healer, to stop bleeding, for skin sores and psoriasis, and to treat gonorrhea. Healers and curanderos in the Amazon today use copaiba resin for all types of pain, for skin disorders and insect bites, and to cool inflammation. In Brazilian herbal medicine systems the resin is used as a strong antiseptic and expectorant for the respiratory tract (including bronchitis and sinusitis), as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic for the urinary tract (for cystitis, bladder, and kidney infections), as a topical anti-inflammatory agent for all types of skin disorders, internally and externally for cancer, and as a popular remedy for stomach ulcers. Copaiba resin is sold in gel capsules in stores and pharmacies in Brazil and recommended for all types of inflammation, stomach ulcers and cancer. One of its more popular home-remedy uses in Brazil is as a gargle for sore throats and tonsilitis (15 drops of resin in warm water). In Peruvian traditional medicine, three or four drops of the resin are mixed with a spoonful of honey and taken as a natural sore throat remedy. It is also employed in Peruvian herbal medicine systems as an anti-inflammatory, and diuretic, and used for incontinence, urinary problems, stomach ulcers, syphilis, tetanus, bronchitis, catarrh, herpes, pleurisy, tuberculosis, hemorrhages, and leishmaniasis (applied as a plaster). Copaiba resin was first recorded in European medicine in 1625 (brought back from the New World by the Jesuits and called Jesuit’s balsam) and has been used there since in the treatment of chronic cystitis, bronchitis, chronic diarrhea, and as a topical preparation for hemorrhoids. In the United States, it was an official drug in the U. S. Pharmacopeia from 1820 to 1910. Noted ethnobotanist and author Mark Plotkin reports that copaiba oil has been used in the United States as a disinfectant, diuretic, laxative, and stimulant-in addition to being used in cosmetics and soaps. The Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients cites that copaiba has diuretic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, disinfectant, and stimulant activities.
The resin contains up to 15% volatile oil; the remaining materials are resins and acids. The active biological properties of copaiba resin are attributed to a group of phytochemicals called sesquiterpenes (over 50% of the resin may be sesquiterpenes), diterpenes, and terpenic acids. These chemicals include caryophyllene, calamenene, and copalic, coipaiferic, copaiferolic, hardwickic, and kaurenoic acids. Several of these chemicals are novel ones found only in copaiba. Copaiba resin is the highest known natural source of caryophyllene, comprising up to 480,000 parts per million. Caryophyllene is a well known plant chemical which has been documented with strong anti-inflammatory effects (among other actions). Main Phytochemicals: Alloaromadendrene, alpha-bergamotene, alpha-cubebene, alpha-multijugenol, alpha-selinene, ar-curcumene, beta-bisabolene, beta-cubebene, beta-elemene, beta-farnesene, beta-humulene, beta-muurolene, beta-selinene, calamenene, calamesene, carioazulene, caryophyllenes, coipaiferic acid, copaene, copaiferolic acid, copalic acid, copaibic acids, cyperene, delta-cadinene, delta-elemene, enantio-agathic acid, gamma-cadinene, gamma-elemene, gamma-humulene, hardwickic acids, illurinic acid, kaurenoic acids, kaurenic acid, kolavenol 1, maracaibobalsam, methlyl copalate, paracopaibic acids, polyalthic acid, trans-alpha-bergamotene
Biological Activities & Clinical Research
Much of the clinical research performed to date has verified the traditional uses of copaiba. In 2002, researchers in Brazil confirmed that it was highly effective as a topical wound healer in animal studies. Long used internally and externally for inflammation of all sorts, clinical research validates the resin’s anti-flammatory effects against various laboratory-induced inflammation in other animal studies. The anti-inflammatory effects have been related to the sesquiterpene chemicals in copaiba oil which scientists have noted can vary significantly-not only between different copaiba tree species, but also within a given species and, even among individual trees. Sesquiterpene content can range anywhere from 30-90%. This may account for the results obtained by other Brazilian researchers who tested eight different commercial samples of copaiba oil and only three of the eight samples demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory effects. Of these sesquiterpenes, caryophyllene is the most well studied, demonstrating pain-relieving properties, antifungal properties against nail fungus, as well as anti-inflammatory and gastroprotective properties in other animal studies.
The gastroprotective effects of caryophyllene documented in 1996 also help justify another traditional use of copaiba oil-as a natural remedy for stomach ulcers. In this animal study, not only did caryophyllene evidence significant anti-inflammatory effects without any damage to the stomach lining (most other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents cause stomach problems)-it actually significantly inhibited stomach injury induced by various chemicals. Two years later, another Brazilian research group reported that giving natural copaiba resin to rats provided a dose-dependent, significant protection against chemical- and stress-induced gastric damage and evidenced an anti-ulcerous effect.
Copaiba’s traditional uses as an antiseptic for sore throat, upper respiratory and urinary tract infections can be explained partly by the resin’s antibacterial properties documented in the 1960s and 1970s. Researchers again confirmed (in 2000 and 2002) that the resin as a whole (and, particularly, two of its diterpenes-copalic acid and kaurenic acid) demonstrated significant in vitro antimicrobial activity against gram-positive bacteria. One of copaiba’s other chemicals, kaurenoic acid, has also demonstrated selective antibacterial activity against Gram-positive bacteria in other recent studies.
Another recent area of research on copaiba resin has focused on its anticancerous and antitumor properties. Researchers in Tokyo isolated six chemicals (clerodane diterpenes) in the oleoresin of copaiba in 1994 and tested them against carcinomas in mice to determine their antitumor activity. One particular compound, called kolavenol, was twice as effective at increasing the lifespan in mice with carcinomas (by 98%) as the standard chemotherapy drug, 5-Fluorouacil (5-FU). The natural resin also increased lifespan by 82%-which was still higher than 5-FU (which increased lifespan by 46%). Interestingly, the in vivo tests provided better anti-tumor effects than in previous test-tube studies. The Spanish team of researchers that documented copaiba’s antimicrobial effects in 2002 also tested for in vitro antitumor effects. These scientists reported that another phytochemical in the resin, methlyl copalate, had in vitro activity against human lung carcinoma, human colon carcinoma, human melanoma, and mouse lymphoid neoplasm cell lines. Brazilian researchers reported in 2002 one of copaiba’s active chemicals, kaurenoic acid, also inhibited the growth of human leukemic cells by 95%, and human breast and colon cancer cells by 45% in vitro. Kaurenoic acid can comprise as much as 1.4% of the natural copaiba oleoresin.
Current Practical Applications
In all herbal medicine systems where it is employed, copaiba resin is taken internally only in very small dosages-usually only 5-15 drops (approximately one-half to 1 ml) 1-3 times daily. In large doses, it has been documented to cause nausea, vomiting, fever, and a measles-like skin rash. A French dermatologist reported that these side effects can also occur with the absorption of copaiba resin through the skin in sensitive individuals. It has, however, been approved officially in the U.S. as a food additive and is used in small amounts as a flavoring agent in foods and beverages. It has also been employed as a fixative in perfumes.
Today in the United States, copaiba resin is used mostly as a fragrance component in perfumes and in cosmetic preparations (including soaps, bubble baths, detergents, creams, and lotions) for its emollient, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Natural health practitioners are just beginning to learn about the many ways that this important rainforest resource is employed in South American herbal medicine systems and are beginning to incorporate them in their practices here. Used prudently and in small quantities, it is a wonderful natural remedy for stomach ulcers, inflammation of all kinds, nail fungus (applied topically) and for its documented wound-healing, antimicrobial and anticancerous properties.
Traditional Remedy: In South America, 5-15 drops of the oleoresin in a cup of hot water is usually taken 2-3 times daily. It is applied directly to the skin for skin problems and wounds (normally prepared with 1 part copaiba resin to 5 parts glycerine or grapeseed oil). It is also employed topically as a massage oil for painful or inflamed muscles and joints – normally combined with another carrier oil (one part copaiba to ten parts carrier oil such as almond or grapeseed oil). For nail fungus and skin cancer, the resin is applied full strength directly on the affected area(s) without diluting it in another oil or glycerine)
Contraindications: Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes, as the resin can act as an irritant. Those sensitive to the resin may experience a measles-like rash accompanied by irritation, itching and/or tingling when using topically or taking internally. Discontinue use if these effects occur. Do not take internally in large dosages (more than 5 ml). Large dosages have been reported to cause nausea, vomiting, fever, and rashes. Discontinue or reduce dosage if these effects occur. Do not take internally during pregnancy. Drug Interactions: None reported.
ETHNOBOTANY: WORLDWIDE USES
Catarrh, cicatrizant, coughs, disinfectant, diuretic, gonorrhea, incontinence, inflammation, psoriasis, sores (skin), syphilis, urinary
Analgesic, antibacterial, antitetanic, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antitumor, balsamic, bladder infections, blenorrhagia, bronchitis, cancer, cancer (stomach), catarrh, cicatrizant, cough, cystitis, dandruff, dermatitis, dermatosis, diarrhea, dysentery, gastroprotective, hemoptysis, hypotensive, incontinence, inflammation, kidney inflammation, leucorrhea, pneumonia, psoriasis, respiratory problems, sinusitis, skin disorders, sore throat, syphilis, tetanus, trypanocidal, tumor (prostate), ulcers (skin), ulcers (stomach), urinary antiseptic, urinary inflammation, wounds
Alterative, antiseptic, bladder irritation, bronchitis, carminative, cathartic, catarrh (bladder, vagina, respiratory tract), chilblains, cystitis, diarrhea, diuretic, dropsy, gonorrhea, hydragogue, hemorrhoids, laxative, leucorrhea, pruritus, stimulant, urinary inflammation, venereal diseases
Anti-inflammatory, blenorrhagia, bronchitis, carminative, catarrh, cicatrizant, diuretic, edema, gonorrhea, hemorrhage, herpes, incontinence, inflammations, insect bites, leishmaniasis, leucorrhea, muscle pain, pleurisy, syphilis, tetanus (neonatal), tuberculosis, ulcers (stomach), urinary, venereal disease, wounds
Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, stimulant
Dermatosis, diuretic, eczema, gonorrhea, maggot, massage, medicine, purgative, stimulant, venereal, vermifuge, vulnerary, wound
Richard, M. A. “Copahic erythema.” Ann. Dermatol. Venereol. 2001; 128(4): 580.
Leung, A. and S. Foster. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Wenninger, J. A., et al. “Sequiterpene hydrocarbons of commercial copaiba and American cedarwood oils.” J. Amer. Oil Chemists Soc. 1967; 50: 1201–1312.
Mahajam, J. R., et al. “New diterpenoids from copaiba oil.” An. Acad. Bras. Cienc. 1971; 43: 611–13.
Paiva, L. A., et al. “Investigation on the wound healing activity of oleo-resin from Copaifera langsdorfii in rats.” Phytother. Res. 2002; 16(8): 737–39.
Fernandes, R. M., Contribuicao para o conhecimento do efito antiiinflamatorio e analgesico do balsamo de copaiba e alguns de seus constituintes quimicos. Thesis, 1986. Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Basile, A. C., et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity of oleoresin from Brazilian Copaifera.” J. Ethnopharmacol. 1988; 22: 101–9.
Cascon, V., et al. “Characterization of the chemical composition of oleoresins of Copaifera guianensis Desf., Copaifera duckei Dwyer and Copaifera multijuna Hayne.” Phytochemistry 2000; 55(7): 773–78.
Veiga, V. F., et al. “Phytochemical and antioedematogenic studies of commercial copaiba oils available in Brazil.” Phytother. Res. 2001; 15(6): 476–80.
Ghelardini, C., et al. “Local anaesthetic activity of beta-caryophyllene.” Farmaco 2001; 56(5–7): 387–89.
Yang, D., et al. “Use of caryophyllene oxide as an antifungal agent in an in vitro experimental model of onychomycosis.” Mycopathologia 1999; 148(2): 79–82.
Tambe, Y., et al. “Gastric cytoprotection of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene, beta-caryophyllene.” Planta Med. 1996; 62(5): 469–70.
Paiva, L. A., et al. “Gastroprotective effect of Copifera langsdorffii oleo-resin on experimental gastric ulcer models in rats.” J. Ethnopharmacol. 1998; 62(1): 73–8.
Opdyke, D. L. “Monographs on Fragrance Raw Materials.” Food Cosmet. Toxicol. 1973; 11: 1075.
Maruzzella, J. C., et al. “Antibacterial activity of essential oil vapors.” J. Am. Pharm. Assoc. 1960; 49: 692–94.
Tincusi, B. M., et al. “Antimicrobial terpenoids from the oleoresin of the Peruvian medicinal plant Copaifera paupera.” Planta Med. 2002; 68(9): 808–12.
de Almeida Alves, T. M., et al. “Biological screening of Brazilian medicinal plants.”Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz 2000; 95(3): 367–73.
Wilkins, M., et al. “Characterization of the bactericidal activity of the natural diterpene kaurenoic acid.” Planta Med. 2002 68(5): 452–54.
Davino, S. C., et al. “Antimicrobial activity of kaurenoic acid derivatives substituted on carbon-15.” Braz. J. Med. Biol. Res. 1989; 22(9): 1127–29.
Ohsaki, A., et al. “The isolation and in vivo potent antitumor activity of clerodane diterpenoids from the oleoresin of Brazilian medicinal plant Copaifera langsdorffii Desfon.” Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 1994; 4: 2889–92.
Freiburghaus, F., et al. “Bioassay-guided isolation of a diastereoisomer of kolavenol from Entada abyssinica active on Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense.” J. Ethnopharmacol. 1998; 61(3):179–83.
Costa-Lotufo, L. V., et al. “The cytotoxic and embryotoxic effects of kaurenoic acid, a diterpene isolated from Copaifera langsdorffi.” Toxicon 2002; 40(8): 1231–34.
Batista, R., et al. “Trypanosomicidal kaurane diterpenes from Widelia paludosa.” Planta Medica 1999; 65: 283–84. Valencia, A., et al. “Zoapatle XII. In vitro effect of kaurenoic acid isolated from Montana frutescens and two derivatives upon human spermatozoa.” J. Ethnopharmcol. 1986; 18(1): 89–94.
The above text has been preprinted from The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor, copyrighted © 2004 All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, including websites, without written permission.
† The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained in this plant database file is intended for education, entertainment and information purposes only. This information is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe or replace proper medical care. The plant described herein is not intended to treat, cure, diagnose, mitigate or prevent any disease. Please refer to our Conditions of Use for using this plant database file and web site.