The medicinal power of oriental sweetgum

The oriental sweetgum tree originally grows in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, particularly in the swamps of south-west Turkey and on the Greek island of Rhodes and further in Syria and Iran. It is a slow-growing tree that can reach ten meters high and four meters wide. In Turkey, the tree was in danger of becoming extinct due to the construction of two dams and the reclamation of land for agriculture, but the Turks now realize that it is important for biodiversity not to further restrict the growth area of the oriental sweetgum. The sap from this deciduous tree is extracted from which a natural medicine is produced. This juice is used in phytotherapy, mainly for lung and skin problems. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing of oriental sweetgum / Source: K√∂hler’s Medizinal Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Eastern sweetgum in history
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Storax for the skin
  • Storax for the respiratory tract
  • Styrofoam balm for scabies

Eastern sweetgum in history

The sap of the oriental sweetgum is called storax, styrax or styrax balm. It has applications in the perfume industry and as a medicinal agent. This substance was known in both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. It was mainly used to produce incense and embalm the dead. Furthermore, kyphi was a famous perfume in ancient times; this also contained storax.

Mining storax / Source: Kjf webmaster, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Ambar means gum. A natural chewing gum can be made from the tree.


The Latin name of oriental sweetgum is: Liquidambar orientalis . Liquidambar styraciflua grows in the US . This tree is called sweetgum in Dutch. The two liquidambar varieties are related and used for the same purposes. Luiquidus is the Latin name for ‘liquid’ and ambar the Arabic word for ‘gum’. That is of course a reference to the storax that is extracted from the tree. Styraciflua means ‘flowing from storax’.

Active substances

Only the storax or styrax is used for medicinal purposes in phytotherapy. This contains the essential oils ethyl alcohol, phenylpropyl alcohol, cinnamon alcohol and benzyl alcohol. It also contains the esters ethyl ester, phenylpropyl ester, benzyl cinnamate and cinnamon cinnamate or styracine. In addition, the oriental sweetgum contains vanillin, cinnamic acid, resin with triterpenes and alpha and beta storesin.

Storax for the skin

Purified storax is an antiseptic; a bactericidal agent. This disinfectant effect can be applied because it is part of a balm. Such a balm softens the skin while at the same time killing pathogenic bacteria and thus protecting people from infections. In phytotherapy, the balm is used for the following conditions:

  • Small wounds,
  • Chapped skin and lips,
  • Cracked nipples,
  • cracked skin,
  • anal fissures,
  • Herpes blisters,
  • Bedsores.

Storax for the respiratory tract

The bactericidal effect of storax is not only used for the skin. As an ingredient in an inhalant it can help with respiratory problems. In addition to its bactericidal effect, the sweetgum has an expectorant effect. In phytotherapy it is used for the following respiratory problems:

Forest with oriental sweetgums / Source: Maria Jonker, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Cough,
  • Incipient acute bronchitis,
  • Chronical bronchitis,
  • Laryngitis or laryngeal inflammation.

Storax is in principle safe. In rare cases, contact dermatitis occurs as a side effect.

Styrofoam balm for scabies

The storax in purified balm form is a remedy for skin conditions related to parasitic infections such as scabies. This disease hardly occurs in the Netherlands anymore. Only if one sleeps for months in a bed where the linen is not changed, there is a risk of developing scabies. Then all clothing and fabric parts in the house must be steam-cleaned or washed at 90 degrees to remove the parasites from the clothing. To treat the skin, a balm containing storax can be used. Using styrofoam balm is also a good idea for other parasitic skin conditions.