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Opopanax (also: Opoponax) refers to a number of gum resins with medicinal properties.

Pliny's opopanax[edit]

Historically, opopanax is a gum obtained from the plant panax.[1] Pliny (Historia Naturalis) described various panaces with uncertain identifications, which have been distinguished as:[2]

Perfumery opopanax[edit]

In perfumery, opopanax refers to the resin obtained from Commiphora erythraea Engl. var. glabrescens Engl., a tree growing in Somalia. A resinoid is prepared from the resin by solvent extraction. Steam distillation of the resin gives the essential oil, which has a warm, sweet, balsamic odor. Opopanax oil and resinoid are used in perfumes with oriental characteristics. An IFRA recommendation exists.[3]

African opopanax is the resin of Commiphora kataf (Forssk.) Engl.[4]

Opopanax, a major export article from Somalia since ancient times, is also known as bisabol - bissa bol (Hindi) and as hebbakhade - habak hadi (Somali). "bissa bol" (Hindi) is scented myrrh, in contrast to "heera bol", bitter myrrh. However, the botanical origin of bisabol is Commiphora guidottii (Burseraceae) and not Commiphora erythraea, as generally has been presumed.[4]

Opopanax is also known as "perfumed bdellium".[4]

Plant opopanax[edit]

A genus of Apiaceae plants and resins bears the name opopanax:


The resins of Commiphora myrrha, Commiphora abyssinica, and Commiphora schimperi, are known as myrrh.[3][5]


The perfume extracted from the sap of the Commiphora opobalsamum is designated in the Bible by various names: bosem, besem, ẓori, nataf, and, in rabbinic literature, kataf, balsam, appobalsamon, afarsemon. It was the only tropical, and the most expensive, spice grown in Ereẓ Israel. In the Song of Songs, balsam is distinguished from myrrh.[6] It was known to Pliny (Historia Naturalis, 12:116; 13.18) as opobalsamum.[7] Balsam is also known as balsam of mecca.[4]

Apparently, the ẓori of the Bible also signifies some remedy compounded of balsam sap and other ingredients. The Balm of Gilead (ẓori) is mentioned as having healing properties. Nataf was an ingredient of the incense (ketoret) burned in the Tabernacle.[6]

At present the tree Commiphora opobalsamum grows wild in the valley of Mecca where it is called beshem. Many strains of this species are found, some in Somalia and Yemen. As a perfume it is hardly used today. It serves in the Orient as a healing agent for wounds and as an antidote to snakebite and the sting of scorpions.[6]


Bdellium is a semi-transparent resin extracted from Commiphora roxburgii and from Commiphora africana. Both resins were used as incense. They are referred to by Pliny (Historia Naturalis, 12:36) as Bactrian and Nubian bdellium. The bdellium referred to by Dioscorides as "the bdellium imported from Petra" (De Materia Medica, 1:80) is probably the resin of Hyphaene thebaica, a species of palm.[8]


From Anglo-Norman opopanac, from Latin opopanax, from Hellenistic Greek ὀποπάναξ, from Ancient Greek ὀπός "vegetable juice" + πάναξ "panacea" (all healing).[9] The OED gives opopanax as the principal spelling, but lists opoponax as a variant spelling recorded from the 19th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "opopanax", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1254 
  2. ^ "panaces", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1288 
  3. ^ a b Karl-Georg Fahlbusch et al. (2007), "Flavors and Fragrances", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (7th ed.), Wiley, pp. 107–108 
  4. ^ a b c d Lumír O. Hanuš et al. (2005), "Myrrh-Commiphora Chemistry", Biomed. Papers 149 (1): 3–23 
  5. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Myrrh", Encyclopaedia Judaica 14 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, pp. 709–710 
  6. ^ a b c Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Balsam", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 95 
  7. ^ "opobalsamum", Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 1254 
  8. ^ Jehuda Feliks (2007), "Bdellium", Encyclopaedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), Thomson Gale, p. 234 
  9. ^ "opopanax". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-12-27.  (subscription required)