North Cyprus Wild Plants – Storax (Styrax officinalis)

Taking the dog for a walk I came across a wild shrub bearing tiny fruits which looked like miniature greengages. I was fascinated to find out what these were and quite quickly established that they were Storax, latin name Styrax officinalis. I always get excited when a plant’s name includes the word “officinalis” because this means medicinal.

It turns out that Storax is a name covering several plants which not only have medicinal values but were used in ancient perfumes and incense. A gum, called storax, is obtained by making cuts in the stem and branches and collecting the resin that exudes from them.

Arthur Gibson notes:

uses of natural products from bark of Styrax date back at least to the Sumerians, who incorporated the terpenoid resin storax into a variety of medicinal preparations, such as liniments and ointments, applied to sores, aches, and infections. Some accounts say that the inner bark was crushed, and then hot water was used to extracted the terpenoids, whereas others mention boiling the bark and skimming the insoluble resin scum before pressing the inner bark for more extract. From that storax is refined into an opaque liquid having the viscosity of honey and the fragrance of balsam.”

Some believe it to have been the stacte used together with frankincense, galbanum, and onycha to make Ketoret, the Tabernacle incense of the Old Testament. For this reason the plant is associated with magic and, some believe, used in spells!

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