Nicolas Lefevre proceedings to sublime and distill benzoin with Spirit of Wine and Tartar Salt. Dry balm, menstruum, perhaps magisterium. An interesting and easy substance.
To understand why one might use benzoin gum or resin to distill and sublime see at Phantom Play’s Tribute to the Raising Benzoin and/or Starkey Pirotechnie & the Art of Volatilizing Alkalis. Here my translation from Cours de la Chimie Paris 1751, Nicolas Lefevre, in italics and my comments in normal. You can find an introduction to this author at Nicolas Lefevre and the Flos Coeli Medicine. As I always warn, these are chemical recipes to get medicines according to the medical science of the time. But Alchemy has often taken advantage of the chemistry of the time.
“Lefevre Cours de Chimie, Tome 2, page 290: Works to be done on Benzoin.
Benzoin is one of the most excellent gums-resins provided by nature. We can say it is a real dry balm.”
Keep notice of this statement.
“The best type is in a way transparent, mixed with white spots in a yellowish-reddish mass, friable, not too much heavy and easily melting, with a very sweet and agreeable scent. We will do the following operations, which tincture, magisterium, flowers, oil, manna or crystals, mercurial acid spirit and balm or coarse oil.
To make benzoin tincture and magisterium.
Take two ounces of Benzoin; prepare it in a very subtle powder since it has to be checked through a silk sieve in order to separate all the heterogeneous things; place this powder in a flask and pour over ten ounces of wine alcohol previously prepared on Tartar Salt, because if there is only a bit of phlegm the whole operation will be exposed to failure.”
We have to break to read up on this.
“Spirit of wine prepared on Tartar Salt. Cours de Chimie, Tome 2 page 186:
In order to better rectify the spirit of wine it is used to distill it on a well calcined tartar salt, which takes away the remaining phlegm in the wine spirit and the last one in its turn takes some tartar particle during digestion, this making it a well better menstruum than the simple wine spirit to extract vegetal virtues”.
Because of the spirit of wine with tartar inside, here we additionally have the dissolution of tartar salt, which is alchemically of great appealing ( since we actually do have to volatilize alkalis). We can resume with benzoin magisterium now:
“Shake carefuly the matter and keep the flask in tepid water and the dissolution will take just a little time to be done, which clearly proves this resin to be composed by a sulphured volatile salt, very pure and very subtle since, in the case of a coarse and oily sulphur, the wine alcohol will perform just a simple extraction and not a real dissolution;
“If the dissolution has kept a coarse and terrestrial mucilage texture, this would not be appropriate with the tidiness and subtilty of our Spirit of Life, not more than our wine alcohol. Because as we employ remedies from benzoin to remove lungs diseases, it is necessary that the matter which we extract it from be composed by subtle, volatile and balsamic parts, in order to suit, and be induced by the Archeum -Archée (1), till digestion of ill parts and always keeping the curative power and virtue.
The dissolution which will be red and transparent has to be filtered in a well dried phial, because in the case of the minimal humidity this will suddenly whiten the tincture , since it will precipitate it in magisterium. Keep half of the tincture aside in a perfectly phial sealed to be then suitable used. Those who want a well depured benzoin have to precipitate the remained part of the dissolution into common and well limpid water; and as soon as you will have pull back the spirit of wine in a little cucurbit at bath vapor, the alleged magisterium will be found at the bottom: you have to remove it by bending the vessel and wash this pure benzoin with rose water, then dry it slowly. We concede it the name magisterium, even if not properly, in order not to run counter to the authors who call it that way. But it is more practical to keep the solution than to precipitate it, as it can be more useful than magisterium.
Tincture is not better named; since it is not but a dissolution, whose virtue is consequently increased thanks to the nobility and excellence of the menstruum.
To make the Benzoin Flowers.
There are two ways: the first way is very simple, you just have to take a good german crucible, which must be round and a little high, and pour into two ounces of benzoin in powder; it has to be placed inside a little capsule with sand, and cover it with a strong and well glued high blue paper horn, the horn must be proportionate to the crucible orifice:
after that you have to give fire degree by degree, and as the artist feels the benzoin vapors to rise he will have to wipe the horn, and will replace it with another of the same size and matter, in order to have the time to wipe by means of a feather the sublimated flowers in the first horn and not to miss those which tend to fade while the crucible is exposed: you have to go on like that till all the volatile sulphured salt of benzoin will be raised in flowers.
For “sulphured salt” ancient chemists did not mean just the fixed, and so less volatile parts, but also the oily parts. It goes without saying that molecular purity was not a big concern back at that time.”
In this chapter my translation is verbatim only for operative parts, the others being on posology and considerations I did repute scarcely interesting for our topic.
The Benzoin distillation.
The second way to have benzoin flowers is having it distilled. Before starting I must warn the would artist that salt and spirit always dwell within the purest substances so mind to use substances with the utmost volatility.
In this operation we will start with an extraction of a wine spirit which will be charged with a volatile and spiritual sulphured portion of benzoin, secondly this purest volatile salt will attach to the retort neck, third a butter-like substance which is the most coarse part of salt and sulphur.”
For a better comprehension of principles from a chemical point of view see at Glaser & Active and Passive Five Principles.
“Fourth a mercurial acid spirit will come out, fifth a bit of yellowish hyacinth color oil of nice fragrance; and lastly, when the last fire will be applied, a thick and blackish balm will come out.”
It is clear enough this being a complete distillation, and quite a screen, of all benzoin resinous components, not just benzoic acid.
“To easily make this wide distillation one has to select a pound of excellent benzoin, grind to powder and put to digest in bath of vapor into a gathering vessel with four pounds of wine alcohol for the time of five natural days; after this period you have to pour the matter in a large glass horn where you have previously put a pound of pure and clear sand and a half pound of iron sequins falling from anvil, so that the whole matter will not exceed a third of the vessel, whose neck must be long and large and whose opening must be one inch diameter; it has to be placed in cinders mixed with sand and a neat and dry container is adapted, a simple bladder filled with water will help to seal the joint, in order to wipe it more easily when you will be be compelled to change container. Having observed all that, the fire has to be given by degrees, in such a way droplets will slowly follow themselves one by one avoiding the container heating.
When you feel all the wine spirit has come out, you must be careful to increase the fire just a bit and then watch out for the flowers, or crystals, coagulating into the horn neck, so to change container, which doesn’t have to be luted, as you have to wipe out over and over again, or to take the flowers and crystals which are formed in the entrance, or to remove from the inside of the neck with a made to measure stick, and mind not to clog the horn because of the vapors abundance having no clear discharge. When all the first flowers, which are the most subtle and white, will be extract, and that the butter-like substance begins to appear, you have to lute the horn to the container with the bladder and increase fire little by little, so that all the acid and mercurial liquor follows he butter-like: so done, you still have to change the container to receive the real oil of benzoin, which will be of a yellowish hyacinth color, but there will be very little and smell very good: this is why the artist must pay attention to color changes, as when the droplets begin to appear red this is the very time to change container again, to receive a thick and blackish balm for the last expression of fire.”