Gray copal is the resin naturally secreted by some trees, for example those of the Bursera genus. Copal has strong esoteric properties of protection, cleansing, connection and healing.
It is considered a sacred resin and has been highly valued since ancient times by the native peoples of America, such as the Mayans and the Aztecs, who used it in rituals of offering, gratitude, connection, inspiration and healing. The Mayans consider copal among the 3 most valuable things that are used to offer to the spiritual world.
Copal is the common name for the aromatic resin of Bursera, a family of trees endemic to Mexico. In Nahuatl, this tree was called copalquáhuitl and its resin copalli, while in its sacred use it was called iztacteteo, the “white god.”
In Mexico and some Central American countries, copal (from Nahuatl, copalli, which meant resin or incense) is known as a series of aromatic plant resins, which are used as incense or incense.
The most common and well-known is that which comes from trees of the Burseraceae family: Bursera aloexylon, B. graveolens and B. jorullensis, although it is also extracted from some species of the Protium family.
Bursera is a genus made up of almost one hundred species that are found throughout the Mexican Republic. Among the Bursera species, B. bipinnata is the one with the widest geographical distribution in Mexico: it is found from southern Sonora to Honduras and is only absent from the Yucatan Peninsula.
Bursera, B. bipinnata is the species usually used to obtain white copal, the most appreciated aromatic resin and with the highest commercial quality; but also because of the resin that these trees release naturally; known as stone copal, black copal, or copal gum.
The Copal tree
It is a low tree, with grayish bark and highly branched, its average height is 6 m, it lives in steep places and is part of the transitional populations of pine and oak forests and low deciduous forests. It is found in places between 800 and 1,600 m altitude, with a generally warm subhumid or dry climate.
In these places, there is a very strong drought for more than four months a year, which causes the trees to shed all their leaves and then green up with the rains. Most copales produce flowers at the beginning of the rainy season, towards the end of May and beginning of June. Flowering is rapid and towards the end of June there are already green fruits. In Mexico, states that have a greater number of different types of burseras are: Guerrero, Michoacán and Oaxaca.
Copal extraction process
Copal resin is extracted during the rainy season (July to October) by copaleros, specialized farmers, in order to have the resin for the festivals of the dead in November, which are celebrated in many Mexican homes.
The farmers and copaleros of Jolalpan (Puebla), for example, extract copal resin by making cuts or scratches with a small blade (called qui-chala), on the bark of the thickest branches of copal trees. The resin that drains from these cuts is directed towards containers that hang tied to each of the branches of the tree.
The stripes on the bark are made concentrically with the oak leaf and form a kind of fan. It is important to note that the copaleros, in order to avoid damaging the tree, make the cuts every third day.
As the copal is deposited on the stalk, it is freed from leaf remains and other impurities with a small rod; The purer and cleaner it is, the greater its value.
To harvest white copal, on numerous occasions, copal growers go into the mountains with their entire family for entire weeks.
Without fail, the copaleros, especially from Jolalpan, Teotlalco (Puebla) and surrounding places, return from the mountains around October 15, because on the 18th of that same month, on the occasion of the feast of San Lucas in Tzicatlán (Puebla) , they market copal, since wholesalers come to buy white copal and through them the annual distribution is achieved to a large part of Mexico.
The type of resin they call stone, black or tree copal is the one that copal trees secrete naturally.
In addition to white and stone copals, copaleros recover myrrh, which are lamellar fragments of bark, like chips, impregnated with copal resin. This material is obtained by cutting the area of the tree bark injured by the scratches that were made on the branches during the resin extraction process.
Another type of Bursera bipinnata copal is the tecopal, a small, rounded, very compact and naturally configured structure, with anthill stones amalgamated with copal resin. It is a particularly therapeutic product and of equal or greater value than white copal.