Copaiba is a neotropical species of the Caesalpiniaceae, a subspecies of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae (pea) family. There are at least 28 species in this subfamily. While the African species produce a copal-like substance, the South-American species produce oleo-resin known as Copaifera or Copaiba Balsam. The composition and properties vary depending on the source species. The oleoresin, which is produced in the inner bark, stems and leaves of the tree, collects in canals and cavities beneath the bark, which can hold gallons of oleo-resin that make the tree more resistant to bug-attacks and microbial invasion.
The first mention of Copaiba (‘Copei’) reached the Old World in 1535, via a report to Pope Leo X. But it took another 113 years to identify and describe the source plant in 1648. By1677 it was ‘official’ and listed in the London Pharmacopeia although Linnaeus didn’t describe the genus until 1762. From 1820 to 1940 it was also listed in the United States Pharmacopeia. Until the advent of antibiotics it served as an important antimicrobial agent.
Copaiba is economically important far beyond its home territory, even today.
It is traditionally used as a protective substance to ward off hexes,