Tonka Bean EOP


By Jeanne Rose ~ 7-07-16

Tonka Bean Synopsis: Tonka Bean information including growing, properties, uses with tobacco, blending bits, perfume formulas and recipes.

Tonka-EO-butter OPT

Common Name/Latin Binomial: Dipteryx odorata (Aubl.) Willd. Tonka Bean

Other Common Name/Naming Information: Tonka Bean was named by the French explorer, botanist and pharmacist Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet (1720-1778). It is also called Tonkin beans or tonquin beans.

Family: Fabaceae, the pea family

Countries of Origins: Tonka bean is exclusively a tropical American species. Some of the world’s largest producers are Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela.

Eden Botanicals Harvest Location: Brazil

Endangered or Not: not extinct but heavily harvested in some countries.

General description of Plant habitat and growth: Tonka trees are large with a canopy and usually grow up to a height of 30 meters in the Amazon rainforest region.  Tonka flowers every five years, has fragrant seeds that are cured in rum and used for scenting Tobacco and snuff. The beans are long, oval, black and wrinkly and have a smooth, brown interior. The fragrance is strong and similar to sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) because of the high content of coumarin.

Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields:
Harvesting takes place in the forests, and the tree is not cultivated. The fruits ripen in the winter and fall off the tree naturally. They are gathered from February to April and processed locally in the forest: the nut and its pulp are broken with a stone tool to recover the bean, which has brown skin and is ivory white inside. Tonka is expressed, extracted or tinctured or the beans used whole. The beans are up to 50% fatty oil.    The annual production of Tonka beans varies from 60 to 100 tons, depending on the year, and is heavily influenced by climatic variations. Grown in South America, shipped to France where the absolute is produced. The butter is handled differently.

Organoleptic Characteristics of
Tonka Bean OrganolepticsOdor Description/
Aroma Assessment: The solvent extracted absolute belongs in the coumarin-hay family of odor and has a sweet hay, and honey scent. The butter is a light floral followed by the scent of bitter Almond.

General Properties: Tonka bean is considered a narcotic and cardiac tonic (although in large doses it paralyzes the heart). —Herbs & Things, p.111. Used as a flavoring for tobacco, snuff and butter and to scent sachets and potpourris.

Properties and Uses: This plant has been used medicinally in the past but because of the coumarin content this usage has been abandoned. The bean butter is antiseptic, expectorant and the oil is fragrant used in perfumery. Because of the coumarin content the bean, butter and oil are considered an insect repellent.

Application/ Skincare (formula at end): Scrapings of the bean mixed with other ingredients are used in bath soaks, perfumes and misting products.

Diffuse/Diffusion: not diffused

Emotional/Energetic Use: Love charm; the use of the bean is considered aphrodisiac.

Key Use: Perfumery although in some countries it is used in tiny amounts to flavor food. Some call it the ‘Oil of Initiation’.

Chemical Components: largely coumarin: To liberate the coumarin, the beans are processed by soaking in alcohol (rum) for 24 hours and drying, whereby a fermentation process takes place. Afterwards, the coumarin content may be as high as 10%. Coumarin crystals are visible below the epidermis of the seed.

Coumarin glycosides occur in several plants; upon wilting or drying, coumarin is liberated. For example, coumarin contributes to the pleasant smell of fresh dried hay. Woodruff (Asperula odorata) has high coumarin content and is sometimes used to flavor alcoholic drinks in Western Europe and the US. It has come out of use, though. Coumarin is toxic and causes serious though reversible liver damage in high dosages or if applied regularly over some time; toxic doses range around one gram, but some individuals are more susceptible. For more information, please look in Herbs & Things p. 111.

Comparison of Main Components of Tonka Bean: Lactones [lactone]- are temperature reducing and generally a fruity odor.  By INHalation – mucolytic; by EXTernal use- skin sensitizing such as the Massoia lactone. The lactone Coumarin (2-hydroxycinnamic acid lactone) in Hay abs and Tonka Beans is anticoagulant, hypotensive, phototoxic, relaxant, sedative, nerve tonic, general tonic.

            The Tonka Butter is comprised of 94-96% fatty acids, Oleic acid is the predominant fatty acid present in Tonka Bean Butter (nearly 50%)and gives the Omega 9 series; though not essential, oleic acid is a hydrating material and is conducive to cell regeneration. Other fatty acids found in Tonka Bean Butter are Linoleic acid, 12 -16%; Behenic acid, 12 – 15.5%; Lignoceric acid, 7 – 9.5%; Palmitic acid, 6 – 8.5%; and several others.

Physiochemical Properties ~ Tonka Bean Butter:

  • Solubility = Buchner states that it is readily soluble in fatty and essential oils.
  • Specific Gravity at 100° C = 0.888
  • Optical Rotation – not found
  • Refractive Index at 20°  – not found

Blends Best with: Bergamot, Blood or Bitter Orange, Clary Sage, Champa, Mimosa and/or Cassie, any of the Chamomiles, Helichrysum, Lemon, Tobacco Absolute, Ylang Ylang.  It is easy to work with Tonka Bean in the creation of certain fern blends.

HYDROSOL: This author has not found a Tonka bean hydrosol.

             PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most of which are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.

Historical Uses: Extracted with water to make a coumarin extract.

Interesting Information: Tonka beans are used in love magic because they have that unique vanilla odor but the warning is that one should never, ever crush the bean for the magic to work. They are also used as a good luck charm and should be carried on the person.

Contradictions: Allergen

Safety Precautions: Use with care, dilute before using.

Patch Test:  If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64

Do not Ingest Essential Oils: I do not recommend the internal use of Perfumery materials for therapeutic purposes.

Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans References:
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992

Regulating Safety of Traditional and Ethnic Foods edited by V. Prakash, Olga Martin-Belloso, Larry Keener, Siân B. Astley, Susanne Braun, Helena McMahon, Huub Lelieveld

Arctander, Steffen. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Arctander. 1960
Coombs, Allen J. Dictionary of Plant Names. Timber Press. 1995
Deite, Dr. C. A Practical Treatise on the Manufacture of Perfumery. Henry Carey Baird & Co., Philadelphia, 1892.
Franchomme, P. l’aromatherapie exactement. R. Jollois: France, 1990
Lawless, Julia. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Element: Massachusetts, 1992
Rose, Jeanne. The Herbal Body Book. Grosset & Dunlap: New York, 1992
Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, CA.,
Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. In spiral bound format from Jeanne Rose from a 1972 1st Edition
Rose, Jeanne. Natural Botanical Perfumery. San Francisco, Ca. 2014

Scientific Data: See Prakash  

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©


Tonka tincture for perfumery: In my collection is a lovely old book, dated 1892 that has a very useful perfumery tincture from Tonka beans. Put 1 oz. of the beans without comminuting or or removing the crystals adhering to them, into a flask, add 6 oz. of the finest alcohol (neutral grape spirits), and let the whole macerate, with frequent shaking, for about 14 days. Then filter off the fluid. The tincture prepared in this manner only contains the cumarin [original spelling] found as a white coating upon the beans, and is used only in the finest products. Now take the beans from the flask, and add 6 ½ cups of alcohol. This extract gives an excellent tincture suitable for products of medium quality. [Deite]

 Jeanne Rose’s experience Tonka Bean and EO: Years ago when I was fascinated with the names of herbs and essences I had never heard of, I found out about Tonka. This was about 1968. I got some Tonka beans that were thickly covered with a white crystalline substance. Of course, now I know that is the coumarin crystals. I never used Tonka bean extract, tincture or butter then only the whole beans and I used them in ritual and in potpourri. Some of these 50-year-old potpourris still exist today and they smell divine.

Tonka-tinc-beanTonka photo by Jeanne Rose

Jeanne Rose uses this EO for perfumery ~ Adding fixatives to the alcohol to complement the final perfume is a useful technique. Remember first that quality alcohol has no scent and no taste. You can add the base notes in small quantities to 95% neutral grape spirits to slightly scent it. Start with a liter/quart of this spirit, which already has the pleasant slightly fruity odor of grapes. Of particular interest is adding 1 gram of Tonka Bean to 1 liter of spirits for a floral odor base fixative. Macerate for several months, label it and use it in as a diluent in your perfumes. Other base alcohols that can be used are Vanilla bean or Benzoin resin/quart for floral, woody odors.

A recipe by Jeanne Rose for the skin. A fragrant somewhat antiseptic hand lotion can be made by mixing a salt spoon size scoop (1/4th teaspoon) of Tonka bean butter with ½ oz. to 1 oz. of unscented hand lotion or plain oil. Mix together and use — your hands will have a lovely odor of bitter almond or you might describe it as homemade Jergens lotion (original lotion from 1882)

Blending with formula:
Top Notes: Bergamot 40-60 drops
Heart Notes: Jasmine, Ylang-ylang — 20-30 drops total
Base Notes: Amber, Tonka Bean — 10 drops total
Mix together, succuss, age, add your diluent, age and then use.

Moth Repellent:  The seed, also called a bean is a perfume and a preventative against Moths: Take one ounce each of Tonquin beans, Caraway Seed, Cloves, Mace, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, all well ground; add six ounces of Florentine Orris root; mix well, and put in bags among your clothes. They will smell good and also repel any moth larvae.

An Old Perfume:
Oh La La! (Azzaro) 1993 – Oriental Style
Use all the odors that you can find of the odors mentioned. Start with equal amounts of each odor and smell test to see if it agrees with you. Then mix the three notes using about 30% each in the final blend. Now you have 10% left to add more of one odor or another or to add a bridge or fixative. Let it rest two weeks, smell test again and then add the carrier or dilute with alcohol to 25%. Succuss every day. Try your perfume in 2 weeks.

Top Notes: Fruit notes. Raspberry, Peach, Mandarin, Bergamot, Fig Leaves, Muscat Grape
Heart Notes: Yellow Rose, Jasmine, Narcissus, Ylang-Ylang, Orange Blossom, Osmanthus
Base Notes: Cinnamon, Sandalwood, Amber, Vanilla, Patchouli, Tonka Bean
Bridge Notes: Tobacco, Birch

Tonka Bean Limerick
Tonka SE is a mighty funny bean

It is solid and needs to be seen.
Use it for a hay smell
It works in perfumes well
And makes nice perfume for a dean.—JeanneRose2014

 Tonka extract-opt



4 thoughts on “Tonka Bean EOP

  1. This was simply fascinating. I have skimmed over information about Tonka beans in other resources in the past but somehow felt completely drawn into this profile. I feel inspired to learn more chemistry.

  2. I love these profiles, and the chemistry! Am completely obsessed with chemistry now. Tonka is on my most wanted list, along with Butter Co2.

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