Styrax (storax) is an oil produced from the sap of different amber tree species. It has a sweet, floral, vanilla like scent.
There is confusion about the true origin of styrax, which can be derived from several, non-related tree species.
- Styrax officinalis is native to Southern-Europe, the Middle East and Southern Asia. The tree was named as such by Linnaeus. In modern Hebrew it is known as livneh refu’i. However, recent tests conducted in Israel have shown the substance derived from this tree species did not show any aromatic or medicinal properties. Hence the original source for styrax may have been another tree.
- Liquidamber orientalis, the oriental amber tree, is native to Turkey and Syria. Most of the commercially available styrax is derived from this tree and is also known as oriental sweetgum. It is perhaps wrongly considered as “false” styrax, since the resin derived from this tree species has the aromatic and medicinal properties, which Styrax officinalis is lacking.
- A third species yielding styrax is the American amber tree Liquidambar styraciflua, also known as American sweetgum, which is found across the South-Eastern US, Mexico and Honduras.
“Styrax” is mostly sold as scented pieces of charcoal. The substance used for perfuming the charcoal pieces is often a mix of oils derived from the different amber tree species. Though at times one can also find sellers claiming the charcoal was imbued with pure, unadulterated, oil from Styrax officinalis. (Read above why that claim is doubtful.) Besides this styrax is also available as a balsam in liquid form, which is used seldom for incense purposes. Lastly one can buy aromatic styrax tree bark, which also comes from the different amber tree species.
Styrax is also known as liquidamber and sweetgum.
- externally in traditional medicine (the oil is diluted with a suitable carrier oil)
Styrax is considered to be stacte (Hebrew nataph) used in biblical Ketoret incense, along with onycha, galbanum and frankincense. Besides this it is also discussed as one possible source for the biblical balm (for other sources see also opobalsamum).
Not to be confused with benzoe resin, which smells similar and is derived from other tree species in Asia (see Styrax tonkinensis and Styrax benzoin).