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Callophyllum inophyllum
Family: Clusiaceae


The tree originates from Polynesia where it is widespread on most of the islands. The large glossy leaves gave the tree its name ‘Calophyllum’ meaning ‘beautiful leaves’ or ‘Alexandrian laurel’. Its luscious foliage earned it its popularity as an ornamental tree and it is often planted along avenues or found in lowland forest in villages. If left to its own devices, It would prefer the sea shores and thrives on coral sands, growing and spreading in a crooked, picturesque shape.
The wood used to be sold in London as ‘Borneo Mahogany’.
It is also known as ‘beauty tree’ due to its ancestral medicinal value.
Tamanu is now grown successfully in Hawaii, South East Asia and Madagascar.


The tree has held a place of primary importance in the traditional folklore. In Tahiti and across the South Sea islands, the tree had a sacred status and was at the centre of religious rites.
Tamanu has had a long reputation of a skin healer. The Polynesians had come to recognise the extraordinary healing properties of the tree and discovered long ago the cicatrizing, analgesic, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties of all its parts. Not only the seeds were harvested and pressed for the oil but the leaves, bark and even sap (in fact toxic) entered in traditional unguents, pastes and liquid extracts that were applied or drunk to heal all sorts of ailments: cuts and wounds, neuralgia, eye care (conjunctivitis), fever, skin diseases …
These remedies are varied in their formulations and show a deep knowledge of each part of the plant and its medicinal powers. Here is how our Polynesian ancestors would treat skin related ailments such as dermatitis, herpes, eczema, pruritis…
A canoe would be filled with spring water which would then be heated by means of red hot lava stones. Once the water had reached boiling point, the stones would be removed and tamanu foliage would be put into the hot water. The branches would be left to infuse until the water cooled down sufficiently. The disease individual would then bathe in the canoe for half an hour. This therapy was repeated three times which was sufficient for the skin to heal and sometimes for the condition never to return.
These remedies were known and used at the same time by all the populations across the world – Polynesia, Africa , South East Asia.
At the beginning of the 20th centuries, missionaries noticed that leprous people used to treat their wounds with a bottle of tamanu oil. The idea came to them to prepare a solution of this oil in an alcoholic ether. This preparation proved effective against neurosis due to leprosy, sciatica, zona. IT was also successful in treating wounds and cuts as well as more serious cutaneous problems such as atonic wounds, dermatitis, chapped skin. This medicine is still currently used in hospitals in Tahiti and neighbouring islands. Cases have been scientifically proven.
In 1948, Tamanu oil was the subject of scientific and clinical studies by Jeanson in ST Louis and Professeur Lederer in Paris. These 2 scientists were trying to repeat and explain the healing successes traditionally experienced by the Polynesians. They were able to treat cases of gangrene, skin grafts, burns, ulcers with in most cases great success.


The tree grows to 25, 30 m in height with long spreading branches. The bark is thick, cracked and rough. The tree is in bloom all year round with 2 peaks. The blossoms are small white sweet scented flowers that are followed with clusters of fruits the size of an apricot. A thin layer of green flesh wraps around a large blond seed. When cracked open, surprisingly the seeds look dry and are odourless. After a couple of months of drying on racks exposed in full sun, they will turn a rich dark brown colour and ooze a sticky aromatic oil.
The oils is cold-pressed from the kernels. It comes out as a green thick substance that feels sticky to the touch. It is only a first and deceptive impression as the oil goes in remarkably easily leaving the skin as smooth as velvet.
In 1950, two of the main active constituents were isolated by Professeur Lederer from France. He found a new fatty acid, calophillic acid and a lactone that proved to be rich with antibiotic properties and at the origin of the oil’s healing and cicatrizing power. It also contains a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent called calphyllolide and coumarins that have proven to be effective against HIV (inophyllym B and inophyllum P)
Along with these newly discovered compounds, tamanu consists mostly of fatty acids.
A typical analysis will show:

  • 20% of saturated fatty acides
  • Oleic acid 30 to 55%
  • Linoleic acid 17 to 39%
  • Palmitic acid 12 to 20%
  • Stearic acid 8 to 18%
    Tamanu has been successfully used to help in the healing of many skin and deeper tissues traumas.
  • Cicatrizing : Tamanu possesses a great ability to promote the growth of new tissue and therefore accelerating the healing of wounds, cuts, bites, acne, eczema, dermatitis, nappy rash
  • Antioxidant: anti-aging – ideal moisturiser for the face, bags under the eye, scaring and stretch marks
  • Anti-inflammatory and Analgesic: back pain, sciatica, rheumatism, arthritis
  • Antibiotic: herpes, ring worm, chilblains, boils.


Back Pain / Sciatica:
In a 50 ml bottle, add 1 ml marjoram, 1 ml peppermint, 1 ml eucalyptus radiata, 1 ml roman chamomile, top up with tamanu.
Apply 3 times a day until pain subsides
I have used this blend successfully and was told it smells of Christmas cake.

Bags / black rings under the eyes
Use tamanu neat or with 0.5 % of german chamomile (1 drop in a 5ml bottle of tamanu). Put one drop on the tip of the finger and apply under each eye. (avoid the eyes)

Burns, Sun burns / insect bites
In a 30 ml bottle, add 1.5ml lavender essential oil and top up with tamanu.

  • Apply on the bite every hour until pain and swelling subside.
  • Apply on the burn, 3 to 4 times a day or as required to leave skin nourished and avoid any tight sensation. Avoid further exposure to the sun

4 drops of helichrysum essential oil in 5 ml of tamanu (about 2%). Apply twice a day as a moisturiser for a week. After a week, in a 30ml bottle of tamanu add, 9 drops of German chamomile (about 1%). Use as a daily moisturiser twice a day
(Avoid using helichrysum on a regular basis as it is rich in ketones and may become neuro-toxic in the long run. Avoid if pregnant and suffering from asthma)

Cystic Acne
In a 5 ml bottle, blend equal part of tamanu and niaouli essential oil. Apply on the spots every 2 hours.

Dermatitis & eczema
Use tamanu neat or blend with calendulal and seabuckthorne (70% tamanu, 29% calendula, 1% seabuckthorne)
Apply on the affected skin at least twice a day.
Essential oils can be added at 1% dilution (15 drops in 50ml)
we would suggest
German chamomile

Nail fungus
In a 5 ml bottle, blend equal part of tamanu and tea tree essential oil. Paint the affected nail with a Q-tip at least twice a day.

In a 30ml bottle, fill with tamanu and add 10 drops kunzea, 10 drops niaouli essential oil

Scaring / stretch marks
In a 50 ml bottle, add 28 ml tamanu, 20 ml rosehip, 2 ml seabuckthorne CO2 extract, 10 drops neroli, 5 drops frankincense.


Carriers oils for aromatherapy & Massage by Len Price
Liquid Sunshine by Ian Kusmerik
Tamanu (calophyllum inophyllum) – the African, Asian, Polynesian and Pacific Panacea by International Journal of cosmetic science, 2002, 24, 1-8
Etude de la composition chimique et de la biodiversity de callyphyllum inophyllum de la Polynesie Francaise par Frederic Laure, universite de la polynesie francaise, laboratoire de chimie des substances naturelles, mars 2005