Amyris(Amyris balsamifera) Monograph

Amyris balsamifera monograph


West Indian Sandalwood is a tropical American tree valued for its fragrant wood, which yields an essential oil used by the perfume, cosmetic and fragrance industries. 
Its natural range extends from southern Florida to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and from Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras in Central American to northern parts of South America, with a distribution mostly confined to dry limestone and scrub forests. 
It is a small, slow-growing tree reaching height of up to 12 m (39 ft ) in its natural habitat, with a slender trunk up to 30 cm (1 ft) in diameter, though is more commonly 5 to 10 m (16 to 32 ft) tall and has ascending branches that form a narrow, rounded or irregular crown. The bark is grey-brown and smooth.
The leaves are made up of three to five, dark glossy green oval leaflets of variable size, ranging in length from 4 to 13 cm (1.6 to 5 in). They release a strong, resinous aroma when crushed and are on the tree throughout the year, though some leaf-exchange occurs at the transition from the dry to rainy season.
The flowers are small, white, and are borne on branched clusters arising from the sides and ends of the branches. They bloom on and off throughout the year, though are most abundant in winter, which coincides with the dry season in its native range. They are followed by small, green egg-shaped fruit, 0.6 to 1.4 cm (0.2 to 0.6 in) long, becoming near black when ripe with a single seed inside.


The leaves, twigs and wood yield on steam distillation an essential oil known as 'Amyris oil'. Amyris oil is used as a fragrance component in cosmetics and perfumes, as well as in aromatherapy and sometimes serves as a substitute for true Sandalwood oil, from Santalum album.
Amyris oil is a pale- or brown-yellow viscous liquid with a slightly sweet, faintly woody cedar-like aroma. Oil yields range from 2 to 4%, depending on the proportion of new to old growth in the distilled material. Optimum yield and quality is obtained from mature wood that has been left to season or dry for five to six months, and storage of the oil for two to three months further improves its aroma.
The wood is dense and heavy, in the 900 to 1100 kg per cubic meter (62 to 68 lb per cubic ft) range, and has high natural resistance to decay and wood-boring insects, on account of its resinous qualities. However, the logs come in small diameter lengths, which makes sawing them into lumber impractical and, besides, are more valuable distilled for their essential oil.
As a note, amyris oil is a bottom (base) note. Bottom notes describe scents that remains after all other scents have evaporated. On a paper scent strip, this scent may last for several months. These essential oils are typically sweet and earthy scents that may promote inner strength and a sense of grounding. Commonly found in this category are amyris oil, amber oil, cedar wood oil, cinnamon oil, patchouli oil, sandalwood oil, fir oil, pine oil, juniper oil and vetiver oil. Middle notes are essential oils that possess flowery or spicy scents and may promote emotional balance. Top notes are essential oils that are refreshing and mentally stimulating. Amyris oil also helps anchor top and middle notes for the purpose of perfume making.
The sweet, balsamic, wood-like fragrance of Amyris oil allows it to blend well with geranium oil, pine oil, spruce oil, cedar wood oil, myrrh oil, galbanum oil, frankincense oil, cypress oil, clove oil, aniseed oil, lemon oil, orange oil, cistus oil and rose absolute oil. It is a less expensive often used replacement for Sandalwood oil, but it many say the scent is not as appealing. Amyris oil has also been used in soap and in a more limited capacity to flavor liquors.
Therapeutically, amyris oil has historically been associated with antiseptics, wound cleaners, childbirth recovery, diarrhea and influenza. In 2006, a study titled "Adult Repellency and Larvicidal Activity of Five Plant Essential Oils Against Mosquitoes" was conducted by Junwei Zhu, Xiaopeng Zeng, YanMa, Ting Liu, Kuen Qian, Yuhua Han, Suqin Xue, Brad Tucker, Gretchen Schultz, Joel Coats, Wayne Rowley and Aijun Zhang. This study compared the repellency of 5 plant essential oils: thyme oil, catnip oil, amyris oil, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil. 3 mosquito species were tested and "amyris oil demonstrated the greatest inhibitory effect"

The plant in depth

Amyris balsamifera is a small tree that forms dense clusters, native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Commonly called “West Indian sandalwood,” the plant’s botanical classification has long been controversial. Though its fragrance has a woody dimension similar to sandalwood, the plant does not belong to the genus Santalum and should not be confused with “Indian sandalwood,” Santalum album. Indigenous peoples traditionally called amyris wood “candlewood” because of a high essential-oil content that caused it to burn longer. Haitian fishermen used it to make “torches” that they used by night to catch sea crabs. Country-dwellers also used it when they had to go to the market before sunrise. The scent of the essential oil of amyris wood has a characteristic woody, sweet heart that develops and ultimately becomes a bottom note with a slightly smoky facet.

Most amyris wood is produced in a very mountainous region of southeastern Haiti. Production areas for this wood are very hard to reach. The gathering and cutting is done by indigenous farmers and takes a great deal of physical effort. The harvested branches and trunks are then routed to the distilleries, mainly via Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince. The wood must dry for at least a year, ideally for two or three years, before distillation. It is coarsely crushed and then steam-distilled using water. The resulting essential oil is then refined for several months or even a year to ensure optimal olfactory quality.


Method for obtainingSteam distillation
AppearancePale yellow to amber yellow liquid, slightly viscous 
ConstituentsSesquiterpenic alcohols (valerianol, eudesmol, elemol)

Essential oil of Amyris balsamifera


The essential oil composition of Amyris balsamifera was investigated by GC-MS. Major constituents were separated by fractional distillation and various chromatographic techniques, and identified by mass, 1H and 13C NMR spectroscopy and/or chemical reactions. The oil consisted of 17.5% sesquiterpene hydrocarbons and 82.5% oxygenated sesquiterpenes. Major compounds were β-sesquiphellandrene, elemol, 10-epi-γ-eudesmol, γ-eudesmol, valerianol, α-eudesmol, 7-epi-α-eudesmol and β-eudesmol. 7-epi-α-Eudesmol is reported for the first time as a natural product.
Steam distillation of the broken up wood and branches produces a pale, yellow, slightly viscous essential oil, with a good yield of between 2 – 4%.  Distillation of wood that has been seasoned for up to six months will produce a better quality oil than distillation of the fresh wood.  On the other hand, some of the oil will be lost during the aging process which results in the aged wood having a lower yield than the fresh wood.  Most of the essential oil is produced in Haiti, with some production in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Venezuela.
The aroma is reminiscent of sandalwood.  I find the Amyris I have to be soft, woody, sweet, balsamic with some vanilla undertones. This base notes light aroma is soothing, relaxing, uplifting, warming and grounding. It is used extensively in perfumes, as both a bridge and an excellent fixative.  I find it blends well with many oils, including most of the woods, florals lavender, lavandin, patchouli, vetiver and ylang ylang.
Looking at the chemistry of the oil we see that it contains up to 70% alcohols and around 20% sesquiterpenes.  The high alcohol and sesquiterpene content would certainly contribute to the oil’s sedative, calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.  I would suggest that you consider using it for any of the conditions that would benefit from these properties.   Skin Rashes; Muscle Cramps; Digestive Cramps; Bronchitis; are examples of conditions that might benefit well by having Amyris included in the blend.  Amyris is also considered to have a positive action on the Immune System.
I made a lovely relaxing blend with Amyris using equal parts Amyris and Lavender and lightened with Bergamot.  Amyris 2 parts; Lavender 2 parts; Bergamot 1 part.  Of course aroma preferences are always personal, so you might find yourself wanting to tweak the blend a bit.  It is a blend that can be used in many different applications.  For instance it could be added to a diffuser or a mister, it could be used for meditation, or just generally relaxing, it could be added to an aroma inhaler to have on hand if one suffers from anxiety or lots of stress.  It could be added to a personal body product or used in the bath.  Do remember to consider the correct dilution of your blend, particularly when using it topically. 

The essential oil of Amyris (Amyris balsamifera) is a light colored viscous liquid displaying a soft, sweet, slightly resinous bouquet with a woody-balsamic undertone.
In natural perfumery can be used as a low cost fixative, blender and modifier in almost any type of composition. Does an excellent job of rounding off rough edges in perfume compositions because of its mild, soft, sweet odor which has good tenacity.
Blends well with agarwood eo and co2; ambrettes seed do and abs; angelica root eo, co2 and abs: benzoin abs; balsam copaiba; cananga eo; carrot seed eo and co2;  canadian blue spruce eo; cassia bark eo and co2; cedarwood eo, co2 and abs; cistus eo and abs;  clove bud eo; cardamon eo, co2 and abs; costus root eo, co2 and abs; cubeb eo; cypress blue eo;  elemi eo;eucalyptus macarthurii eo; fir balsam eo and abs; frankincense eo, co2 and abs; galbanum eo, co2 and abs; geranium eo and abs; guaicawood eo; gurjun balsam eo; juniper berry eo, co2 and abs;labdanum eo and abs; lavender eo, co and abs; myrrh eo, co2 and abs; nutmeg eo, co2 and abs;  opoponax eo and abs; patchouli eo, co2 and abs; peru balsam eo and abs; rosemary eo, co2 and abs; sage clary eo and abs; sandalwood eo, co2 and abs; siamwood eo; styrax eo and abs; tolu balsam abs; vanilla co2 and absolute; tonka bean abs;  tuberose abs; ylang eo, co2 and abs, vanilla bean abs and co2; vetiver eo, co2 and abs