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Canarium Commune,

The ripe pili nut is edible and sold in confectioneries

NOM. VULG.—Pili, Tag.; Java Almond Tree, East Indian Elemi, Eng.

USES.—The ripe pili nut is edible and sold in confectioneries. It yields a fixed oil, an excellent sample of which was sent by the Manila pharmacist D. A. del Rosario to the Paris Exposition of 1889. “It is an oil very similar to oil of almond and owing to its physical properties may be used as a substitute for the latter for all the requirements of pharmacy. The only inconvenience connected with its use is the slight one that it solidifies at 3° C. It could furthermore be very advantageously used in the manufacture of fine grades of soap.” (D. A. del Rosario.) The incised trunk exudes a gum-resin called brea blanca (white pitch) in the Philippines and elemi in Europe. Until recently it was not known in Europe what tree yielded the gum elemi, some authors stating that according to Blanco it was the resin of the Icica abilo, Blanco (Garuga floribunda, Decsne); it is not true, however, that Padre Blanco ever attributed such origin to that product or named his Icica the “pitch-tree.” On the contrary in speaking of the Canarium, Blanco states that it yields a resin called “pili-pitch.” I do not know the reason for this confusion of terms, but presume it to be due to imperfect knowledge of Spanish on the part of those who thus quote Blanco.

Pili-pitch, or elemi, as they call it in Manila, is a substance existing in soft masses, slightly yellowish or gray, resembling old honey in appearance. Its odor is strong and agreeable, somewhat like that of lemon and turpentine. Its taste is acrid and bitter.

The French pharmacist Meaujean demonstrated in 1820 that elemi contains two resins, one soluble in the cold, and the other in hot spirits of wine. Other chemists, among them Baup, Flückiger and Hanbury, have found elemi to be composed of a resinous substance and a colorless essential oil; the proportion of the latter Flückiger gives as 10% and further states that it is dextrogyrous.

Sainte-Claire Deville found the essential oil levogyrous, a fact that emphasizes the probability of there being different products in the market bearing the name of elemi.

Baup obtained several principles from it: (1) A resin, brein, fusible at 187°, soluble in cold alcohol, crystallizable in oblique rhombic prisms; (2) another crystalline substance, bryoidin, soluble in 360 parts water at 10°, and melting at 13°; (3) a small amount of breidin, a body soluble in 260 parts water and melting at 100°+; (4) another resin soluble in boiling alcohol, called amyrin.

White pitch is used in the Philippines to make plasters which they apply to the back and breast of patients suffering from bronchial or pulmonary complaints; it is also applied to indolent ulcers. We believe that elemi possesses the same properties as copaiba, and that its indications for internal use are the same.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—A tree 30–40 meters high, with leaves alternate, oddpinnate; leaflets opposite, coriaceous. Flowers yellowish-white in axillary, compound panicles, hermaphrodite. Calyx 3-toothed. Corolla, 3 oblong, concave petals. Stamens 6, inserted on the base of the disc. Ovary free, of 3 lobules each containing 2 ovules. Style simple. Stigma, 3 lobules. Drupe oblong, size of large prune, fleshy, containing a hard, 3-sided pit.

HABITAT.—Very common in all Philippine woods especially in Camarines.

Reference book: The Medicinal Plants of the Philippines

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