7 Benefits of Tonka Bean Essential Oil
About the Tonka Bean and Its Oil
The Tonka bean, also called Tonquin bean, comes from the seeds of the Tonka tree, also known as cumaru/kumaru, which is native to Central and South America. It is a member of the legume family. Though the tree is also highly valued for its hardwood timber, it is the bean which has received international attention.
The wrinkly black-skinned beans may not look like much, but their rich, sensual, vanilla-esque aroma make them highly valued for food, cosmetics, perfumery, and tobacco. The scientific names include Baryosma tongo, Coumarrouna odorata, and Dipteryx odorata.
Historically, the bean was used in the extraction of coumarin for usage in tobacco flavouring. These days, the flavouring used in tobacco is synthetically made to cut down costs, and the demand for the Tonka bean has fallen.
The bean contains up to 46% of oil by dry weight. Tonka bean oil is amber or yellow-coloured oil, which is very thick and solid at room temperature and can be heated by running the oil container under hot tap water. A hair dryer can also be used to melt it. Different grades of the oil are made, including concretes, absolutes, and tinctures. However, Tonka bean essential oil can be rare to find.
Tonka bean absolute essential oil is created by allowing the beans to soak in rum for 1–2 days. The beans are then dried to allow coumarin, characterized by small white crystals, to form on the surface. These crystals known as coumarin are what give the beans their intense aroma.
Tonka bean oil is mainly used in bath soaks, perfumes and mists, as well as spa and massage. Often used as a fixative oil, the bean has a warm powdery fragrance reminiscent of caramel vanilla. Its sweet and fruity candy-like aroma makes it a heavily used essential oil in the perfumery industry. It is often used as an adulterant for vanilla extract. Spiritually, the oil is also known as the Oil of Initiation.
The Tonka bean gets its name from the language of Galibi, spoken in an area of French Guyana. The word bean in the Galibi language is “tonquin” or “tonqua,” hence the name Tonka bean.
First, two notes of caution:
- Tonka bean oil is not to be taken internally and can be toxic if consumed. It should be avoided with blood thinning medication.
- In modern times, the use of the tonka bean medicinally has been discontinued due to claims that the high coumarin content can cause heart damage, liver damage and cancer.
Traditional herbal treatments still used to date in the forests of South America recognizes the importance of this oil as an antiseptic, as it is successfully used to treat ear aches. The beans are soaked in rum to treat cuts, bruises, rheumatism, and even snake bites.
The bean is said to have anti-spasmodic properties and is used to treat coughs and asthma. By signaling the body to increase the amount of secretions, the expectorant property works by propelling infectious matter out of the body through mucous, and lubricates the lung passageways. This clears chesty coughs and relieves asthma.
The coumarin derivatives obtained from the bean and found in the oil, are used medicinally as anti-coagulants. Anti-coagulants are substances that prevent clotting of blood. Such substances are found naturally in leeches and other blood sucking parasites. Allopathic drugs for blood thinning, such as Warfarin, contain Tonka bean extract—however, large doses of this oil are toxic and fatal when consumed.
A fixative is known as any natural substance that will help grip and “fix” a base fragrance and increase its lasting time on skin. Tonka bean oil acts as a strong anchor to many vanilla, floral, or fruity scents, improving their lasting time and enhancing fragrance tones.
It's also a cheaper substitute for vanilla in perfumery. However being cheaper does not deduct the rather unique and slightly fruit scent, which contains whiffs of cinnamon, cloves, and almond. Tonka bean oil blends well with patchouli, rose, lemon, sandalwood and lavender.
- Perfumes with Tonka bean for women include Dior Addict, Thierry Mugler—Angel and Lolita Lempicka—Lolita.
- Perfumes with it for men include Dior Fahrenheit, Thierry Mugler—A*men and Givenchy—Pi.
Many scents are being used in perfumery with the promise of attracting the opposite sex. Tonka bean is a natural aphrodisiac, with its dark and sensual aroma reminiscent of a deep warm vanilla that is both mysterious and tempting.
The high coumarin levels in the bean acts as a natural insecticide and moth repellent. Many studies have been conducted on the use of coumarin and its potency in pesticides. For starters, coumarin seems to work as a natural pesticide in the trees and plants that produce it, reducing the number of insect attacks and allowing the tree/plant to grow undisturbed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.