What’s Natural Resin?

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Natural resin comes from plants and hardens over time. It is soluble in alcohol but not water, and is used in varnishes, paints, sealants, lacquers, and adhesives. Rosin is a treated form used for bowstrings, while soft resin is used in perfumes and incense. Fossilized resin creates amber, which some cultures believe has medicinal qualities.

Natural resin is a resin product that comes from a plant, in contrast to synthetic resin, which is produced via chemical synthesis. Natural resins have been used in various human cultures for thousands of years; a notable example of ancient use of resin is found in Egypt, where resin was used in the preparation of mummified bodies. Natural resins continue to be used today for a wide range of applications ranging from scenting to treating bows for instruments such as violins and cellos.

Few distinctive traits define a natural resin. The first is the fact that it starts out in a sticky, slightly rubbery state and hardens over time. The second is that it is soluble in alcohol and related compounds, but not in water. This is what makes resins so useful; they can be heated or made into alcohol to soften them, applied to something, and left to dry. Once dry, the resin does not admit water infiltration.

Resin is naturally produced by many plants as a self-defense and healing mechanism. Resins have a hydrocarbon base and often contain terpenes, which give them a sharp odor. They may also contain other compounds. When fresh, the resins are chewy, sticky, and soft. Over time, they harden. This hardening is what makes them useful to humans, as the resin is hard enough to be used in varnishes, paints, sealants, lacquers, and adhesives, among other things.

The base natural resin is sometimes treated to remove terpenes, in which case it is known as rosin. Rosin is the form of natural resin used to treat bowstrings. Some resins remain soft, in a form known as gum resins or oleoresins. Gum resins blend the traits of a gum and a resin, and oleoresins can have flavor compounds which lead them to be classified as balms.

The soft natural resin is used in perfumes and incense. Frankincense is an example of a popular soft resin that famously appears in the Bible. This aromatic resin has long been used in perfumes and incenses in the Middle East, as well as many other balms. Conditioners from around the world also sometimes appear in personal care products, where they may be considered therapeutic or simply because of their strong scent.

Sometimes, natural resin becomes fossilized, creating amber. This form of hardened and fully hardened resin can be cut and polished to create a luminous translucent stone that can range in color from pale yellow to deep orange. Some cultures believe that amber has medicinal or therapeutic qualities.

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