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Copaiba (Copaifera spp., Caesalpinaceae) trees are found mainly in tropical locations in South America1 and Africa.2 There are between 35-40 species of Copaifera ; 5 of which are found in Africa.3 Also known as copal, Jesuit's balsam, and acete de palo , among many other names, C. langsdorffii grows mainly in central Brazil, C. reticulata is found in the Amazon, and C. officinalis grows throughout South America.1 Obtained from incising the tree trunk (tapping), the oleoresin is used medicinally for its antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.1-3

Traditional uses of the oleoresin include wound healing, stanching of blood, and the treatments of psoriasis gonorrhea. 1 Amazonian healers also use it for pain relief, skin ailments, insect bites, and to decrease inflammation. In Brazil, the oleoresin is used for respiratory tract infections, including bronchitis and sinusitis, and urinary tract infections. It is also used for sore throats and tonsillitis. In Peru, uses include incontinence, stomach ulcers, tetanus, herpes, and tuberculosis. The Jesuits recorded in the 17th century that they used it to treat chronic cystitis and chronic diarrhea, as well as a topical hemorrhoid preparation.1

In the United States, copaiba is used mostly as a food additive and as a fragrance for perfumes, soaps, and other body products. Along with verifying copaiba's traditional usage, clinical research has been conducted to ascertain the resin's anticancer and antitumor potential.1 A small clinical trial, conducted in Brazil, investigated the oleoresin's effects on acne vulgaris. While copaiba was effective, placebo treatment was as well,4 and larger trials are needed to determine efficacy. (See HC 011362-474).


1Taylor L. The Healing Power of Ranforest Herbs – A Guide to Understanding and Using Medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.

2Desmarchelier C, Schaus FW. Sixty Medicinal Plants from the Peruvian Amazon – Ecology, Ethnomedicine and Bioactivity. Peru: Derechos Reservados; 2000.

3Schultes RE, Raffauf. The Healing Forest. Portland, OR: Dioscordes Press; 1990.

4da Silva AG, Puziol P de F, Leitão RN. Application of the essential oil from copaiba (Copaifera langsdorffii Desf.) for acne vulgaris: a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial. Altern Med Rev. March 2012;17(1):69-75.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor