Although the word elemi has been used for centuries in reference to a wide variety of plants in many countries, it most commonly refers to a large, flowering tree in the Philippines called the Manila elemi, Canarium luzonicum, or brea blanca. The tree can grow to 115 feet tall (35.1 m) and 3.2 feet (1 m) in diameter. Even the leaves are large, growing to 11.8 inches (30 cm) long. The resin and oils obtained from the tree are used to treat a variety of medical conditions, as well as in varnishes and inks.
The medical uses of the elemi are quite numerous. Alternative medicine practitioners use the oil as an expectorant to treat coughing, bronchitis, and to relieve excessive mucus in the respiratory passages. It is also used as an antiseptic to treat scars, skin infections, and open wounds. Some people use the oils to rejuvenate aging, sagging skin. The scent is reminiscent of pine and lemon and is used to relieve stress and promote tranquility.
Elemi oil is considered an essential oil. When it is used for respiratory conditions and for a calming influence, it is usually used in a vaporizer or an aromatic diffuser. Some people choose to put a few drops of the oil in their bath, specifically if they are treating a skin infection; however, that method can be used for respiratory ailments as well. Many people choose to combine the oil with other stress relieving scents, such as rosemary, sage, or lavender.
Although rarely used in Western countries, some varieties of elemi are used as a stimulant, particularly in the Philippines. In addition, elemi can be used to prevent legs from swelling and for treatment of rheumatism. It is also quite common as a salve to treat ulcers.
The resin that is extracted from the elemi is light yellow and has a similar consistency to honey. The resin is mainly used in commercial lacquers and varnishes. Many boat caulks contain the resin, as well. In addition, some inks also contain the resin. In China, it is used to make transparent paper.
Most people do not have any issues with elemi. However, there have been cases of skin irritation, specifically for people with sensitive skin. As with any new product, test it out on a small area of skin before using on a large area of the body. Any concerns should be addressed by an alternative medicine practitioner or a medical doctor.