- Family Lauraceae
- Cinnamomum camphora syn. Laurus camphora
- Gum Camphor, Laurel Camphor, Cemphire
- Spanish: Alcanfor, Plumajillo
- It is not to be used internally.
- Camphor preparations should not be applied to badly burned or open wounds nor should they be used on young children.
- Another caution concerns the environment. Using camphor mothballs as an insect repellant in gardens contaminates the soil and enters the water table.
- Do not use in the facial area of children or infants as it can be a powerful convulsant.
Native to China and Japan, Camphor trees now thrive in Egypt, Formosa, Madagascar, the Canary Islands, Argentina, Brazil, southern Europe, and the US. This evergreen tree can reach 100 feet, producing red leaves that turn dark green as they mature, small fragrant yellowish flowers, and oval red berries. It is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions for its wood, from which the medicinal oil is derived.
When the root or bark is steamed, it produces a volatile, white, crystalline compound with a characteristic pungent odor, usually referred to as camphor. (The aromatic oils in such plants as tansy and feverfew may also be referred to as camphor). Trees that produce the real camphor are slow-growing. In fact, the Chinese believe that it cannot be extracted from trees under fifty years old. In the US, camphor is extracted from leaves and twigs of the oldest trees, which does less damage than the more invasive Chinese method. Despite this, most of the camphor now used in the US is produced synthetically.
In the 13th century, Marco Polo noted that camphor oil was highly valued by the Chinese as a medicine, scent, and embalming fluid.
The Spanish name for the plant comes from the Arab “al kafur,” which suggests that it was part of the Spanish/Moorish medicine chest.
Medicinally, camphor is well-known in topical ointments, linaments, and creams; but it is also used in the manufacture of many other products, including celluloid, explosive, moth repellents, and soaps.
It is the ingredient in the well-known commercial product called Vicks VapoRub.
- external counterirritant
- volatile oil (mainly camphor, safrole, eugenol, and terpineol)
- Stems, root, wood, leaves, twigs, volatile oil
- A white, crystalline substance derived from the stems, root, and other parts of the tree is also called camphor and has a powerful antiseptic quality, as well as being a stimulant and antispasmodic.
- Although German health authorities have approved the use of camphor as a tonic for circulation disorders, the US FDA is still cautious as camphor is highly toxic to the liver.
Camphor is most commonly used externally to relieve arthritic and rheumatic pains, neuralgia, and back pain. It may also be applied to such skin problems as cold sores and chilblains and as a chest rub for bronchitis and other chest infections. It is often used in steam vapourizors to help control coughs by producing a local anesthetic action to the throat and to loosen congestion due to colds. When a cream or ointment containing camphor is rubbed onto the chest, throat, or back, body heat helps release camphor vapors that, when inhaled, help loosen mucus and relieve airway congestion.
C. cassia is a variety used in China to treat diarrhea.
Ayurvedic medicine includes uses for muscle pain, cardiac insufficiency, and asthma.
In Mexico, the sap has slight antiseptic properties and used to relieve aches and pains.
Camphor can also be used to soften chapped lips, ease the itchiness of such minor skin irritations as eczema and insect bites, promote the healing of minor burns and skin wounds, and to repel moths and other insects. When camphor is applied to the skin as a salve or linament, it acts as a counterirritant that stimulates nerve endings, helping to reduce the number of pain messages that reach the brain.
In Latin America, a solution of camphor in wine is used as a liniment for tumors and to treat respiratory problems. It is sold in Latin American markets in small, semisolid, translucent blocks.
In Mexico, a mixture of camphor and olive oil is a popular treatment for bruises and neuralgia.