I love researching eco-friendly and natural uses of essential oils, and I like to share what I learn with others.
About the Tonka Bean and Its Oil
The Tonka bean, also called Tonquin bean, comes from the seeds of the Tonka tree, also known as cumaru/kumaru, which is native to Central and South America. It is a member of the legume family. Though the tree is also highly valued for its hardwood timber, it is the bean which has received international attention.
The wrinkly black-skinned beans may not look like much, but their rich, sensual, vanilla-esque aroma make them highly valued for food, cosmetics, perfumery, and tobacco. The scientific names include Baryosma tongo, Coumarrouna odorata, and Dipteryx odorata.
Historically, the bean was used in the extraction of coumarin for usage in tobacco flavouring. These days, the flavouring used in tobacco is synthetically made to cut down costs, and the demand for the Tonka bean has fallen.
The bean contains up to 46% of oil by dry weight. Tonka bean oil is amber or yellow-coloured oil, which is very thick and solid at room temperature and can be heated by running the oil container under hot tap water. A hair dryer can also be used to melt it. Different grades of the oil are made, including concretes, absolutes, and tinctures. However, Tonka bean essential oil can be rare to find.
Tonka bean absolute essential oil is created by allowing the beans to soak in rum for 1–2 days. The beans are then dried to allow coumarin, characterized by small white crystals, to form on the surface. These crystals known as coumarin are what give the beans their intense aroma.
Tonka bean oil is mainly used in bath soaks, perfumes and mists, as well as spa and massage. Often used as a fixative oil, the bean has a warm powdery fragrance reminiscent of caramel vanilla. Its sweet and fruity candy-like aroma makes it a heavily used essential oil in the perfumery industry. It is often used as an adulterant for vanilla extract. Spiritually, the oil is also known as the Oil of Initiation.
First, two notes of caution:
- Tonka bean oil is not to be taken internally and can be toxic if consumed. It should be avoided with blood thinning medication.
- In modern times, the use of the tonka bean medicinally has been discontinued due to claims that the high coumarin content can cause heart damage, liver damage and cancer.
Traditional herbal treatments still used to date in the forests of South America recognizes the importance of this oil as an antiseptic, as it is successfully used to treat ear aches. The beans are soaked in rum to treat cuts, bruises, rheumatism, and even snake bites.
The bean is said to have anti-spasmodic properties and is used to treat coughs and asthma. By signaling the body to increase the amount of secretions, the expectorant property works by propelling infectious matter out of the body through mucous, and lubricates the lung passageways. This clears chesty coughs and relieves asthma.
The coumarin derivatives obtained from the bean and found in the oil, are used medicinally as anti-coagulants. Anti-coagulants are substances that prevent clotting of blood. Such substances are found naturally in leeches and other blood sucking parasites. Allopathic drugs for blood thinning, such as Warfarin, contain Tonka bean extract—however, large doses of this oil are toxic and fatal when consumed.
A fixative is known as any natural substance that will help grip and “fix” a base fragrance and increase its lasting time on skin. Tonka bean oil acts as a strong anchor to many vanilla, floral, or fruity scents, improving their lasting time and enhancing fragrance tones.
It's also a cheaper substitute for vanilla in perfumery. However being cheaper does not deduct the rather unique and slightly fruit scent, which contains whiffs of cinnamon, cloves, and almond. Tonka bean oil blends well with patchouli, rose, lemon, sandalwood and lavender.
- Perfumes with Tonka bean for women include Dior Addict, Thierry Mugler—Angel and Lolita Lempicka—Lolita.
- Perfumes with it for men include Dior Fahrenheit, Thierry Mugler—A*men and Givenchy—Pi.
Many scents are being used in perfumery with the promise of attracting the opposite sex. Tonka bean is a natural aphrodisiac, with its dark and sensual aroma reminiscent of a deep warm vanilla that is both mysterious and tempting.
The high coumarin levels in the bean acts as a natural insecticide and moth repellent. Many studies have been conducted on the use of coumarin and its potency in pesticides. For starters, coumarin seems to work as a natural pesticide in the trees and plants that produce it, reducing the number of insect attacks and allowing the tree/plant to grow undisturbed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Neville Mohammed on March 26, 2020:
How to extract the oil from the seeds
I have at present a ton of beans
Marie Irizarry on January 23, 2019:
is there any way this is available fir ourchase. my son suffers from ear ache and headaches. please let me know. been to doctors and specialist nothing.
R on December 01, 2016:
Galibi is in Suriname, not French Guyana.
Juniper on May 11, 2014:
Where can I buy good tonka bean oil?
Chinmay Das from Mumbai, India on January 26, 2014:
The amount of research put into this hub seems immense.
Susan Ream from Michigan on January 22, 2014:
I have never heard of Tonka Beans. This article is fantastic and filled with great information and helps.
I use essential oils, for medicinal purposes, and have found them to work wonders. Peppermint essential oil for headaches works better than aspirin.
Loved reading about the benefits of the tonka beans.
You, my dear, are an articulate writer and communicator. Thanks for this article! Voted up, shared +++
healthmunsta (author) on January 01, 2014:
Hey, halcyone! Tonka been is still available in the UK and is approved in Australia and New Zealand, too. Thanks for reading!
Halcyone from San Francisco on January 01, 2014:
Loove the smell of Tonka bean! Thanks for the Hub! I hear that the essential oil is illegal to sell in the US now given the blood thinning properties
healthmunsta (author) on December 16, 2013:
rls8994 from Mississippi on December 16, 2013:
This is very interesting! Great information and very well researched. Voted up!
healthmunsta (author) on December 14, 2013:
@torrilynn: Hey, thanks for dropping by! Tonka bean oil is rare but it does have some unique properties.
torrilynn on December 14, 2013:
Tonka oil seems beneficial indeed due to the different ways you can use it. Thank you. Up and useful.
healthmunsta (author) on December 14, 2013:
Thanks, nattokinasehealth. Please consult your health care practitioner before undertaking any new additions to your diet.
Andy James on December 11, 2013:
I'm going to bare what you've written in mind, as I have poor circulation and I'm wondering if this might be a good addition. Great read, thanks for posting.
healthmunsta (author) on December 07, 2013:
irenemaria from Sweden on December 07, 2013: