Also known as ‘storax’, both names for benzoin. In common with balsam of Peru and balsam of tolu, this is an oil – tapped from a tree (Styrax benzoin, hence the two names), after deliberately damaging the bark.
It was first described in the 14th Century; the Arabs called benzoin ‘frankincense of Java’, and it’s had a seriously long tradition of use in pomanders, pot pourri, incense and soaps. (Rather usefully, benzoin multi-tasks as an antiseptic and an inhalant, as well as a stypic, i.e. it actually stops minor wounds bleeding.) Benzoin gives ‘body’ to many perfumes (it’s especially widely-used in ambrées) and is sweetly seductive, very reminiscent of vanilla.
Adds perfumer Andy Tauer, ‘Styrax actually comes in two forms, which give different effects. The first is resinoid, which is perfect with lavender. Don´t ask me why but it seems to fix it perfectly and it calms the hyperactive lavender. The other type is leathery with woody smoky, undertones – not like birch tar, though, with its association of smoked sausages and campfires in October with wet wood. It is more the leather that you expect your gloves to exhale. I love the warm leather tones of this quality of styrax – but it needs careful handling, though.’
Smell styrax benzoin in: