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What is Elemi?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi , Former Writer
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.

Discussion Comments

By andee — On Sep 04, 2011

I love using essential oils and many times will reach for them before I take any over the counter medications.

After I read about all the skin benefits from using elemi essential oil, I purchased a bottle of it.

After my shower while my skin is still moist, I apply a few drops around my eyes to help minimize any wrinkles. I also put a few drops on my checks where I have a little bit of scarring.

I have not had any trouble with my skin breaking out or becoming sensitive when I use this oil. I know that frankincense is also very good for the skin, but it is much more expensive than elemi.

I bought the elemi oil because read that it was called 'the poor man's frankincense'. You are supposed to get a lot of the same benefits but it is not nearly as expensive as a bottle of frankincense.

By shell4life — On Sep 04, 2011

Elemi can protect your body against all kinds of infections. I started using it after I began getting urinary tract infections frequently. Now, I don’t get them anymore.

It also works well as a pain reliever. It is especially good at relieving sore muscles, headaches, and joint pain, all of which I have used it to treat.

Elemi helped clear up my sinusitis when several types of antibiotics failed. This oil can make pretty much every bodily process more efficient, as it can stimulate all the parts to do their jobs better.

By Perdido — On Sep 03, 2011

My aunt, who is knowledgeable about all kinds of essential oils, told me that elemi was used to stimulate the immune system. This makes sense, because the article says that it can help heal wounds and infections. I guess it gives the body a natural boost, sort of like a steroid does.

She gave me some to try when I was sick with bronchitis. I know that it helped me cough up a lot of mucus, and I believe that it also sped up my recovery. It stimulated my body to fight the infection, and it gave it that extra little kick it needed.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 03, 2011

I used elemi oil to treat several scratches and scrapes I got from running through a rose bush. I was out in my yard at night when a strange dog approached and growled at me. I ran toward the house fast, and the rose bush happened to be in my path, so I passed right through it without slowing down.

My arms and legs had multiple bloody tears. I put some elemi oil in the bathtub and diluted it with water, as I have heard you are supposed to do. I soaked in it for about thirty minutes, and I did this every night until new skin grew over the wounds.

By cloudel — On Sep 02, 2011

I find that elemi oil helps slow my mind down when I’ve had a hectic day. I put a few drops of it in my bath water, along with some lavender oil. I have one of those head rest pillows that is made for the bathtub. I lay my head back on it, and sometimes I get so relaxed that I doze a little.

I always use very warm water so that it won’t get cold before I’m ready to get out of the tub. This gives the elemi oil time to do its job. Also, it loosens up tight muscles.

Deanna Baranyi

Deanna Baranyi

Former Writer

Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
Learn more
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