The Camphor tree is a large evergreen tree that grows in Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Madagascar, southern Europe, and even in the US. It often grows to more than 100 feet in height, yields red leaves that turn dark green with age; small, pale-colored flowers and crimson berries. Camphor tree flowers yield nectar to produce honey.
Why should I be aware about it?
Camphor is an easy to source herb in Asia, Europe and the US, and is used extensively in alternative herbal treatments. It treats problems such as muscle pain, strains, rheumatism and chapped hands. As camphor is a counter-irritant and its oil helps in numbing the peripheral sensory nerves, camphor oil was traditionally massaged into sprains and sore muscles and joints for pain relief. It is particularly effective in the treatment for arthritic and rheumatic joint pain.
When camphor is burnt it purifies the atmosphere and acts as an excellent germ killer and a natural mosquito repellent.
Because of its natural preservative and insect repellant properties, camphor wood was used to make many traveling and storage trunks and cabinets in which contents could be preserved. In the old days, camphor wood was used in the manufacture of sailor’s chests as it is resistant to salty air and water corrosion. During the 1800s many in America and Europe wore camphor crystals around their necks to ward off infectious diseases and for treatment of respiratory ailments. Camphor is still used to treat colds and help fight bacteria.
However, the Camphor Laurel is one of the most agressive non native pests in several countries like Australia. Not only is the tree choking local fauna, it also releases many toxic chemicals. In fact, camphor itself is toxic when ingested. That is why in the High Court of Australia in 2002, citizens have been given the right to remove any street-side Camphor laurel physically destroying sandstone walls or foundations, and seriously damaging footpaths and gutters.
Camphor and health
In low concentrations it can fight inflammation and circulation problems. It also helps decongestion in the respiratory tract, sinusitis, eye complaints, epilepsy, gout, pain experienced during menstruation, insomnia, flatulence, and rheumatism. Camphor is used in medicine internally for its calming influence in hysteria, nervousness and neuralgia, and for serious diarrhea.
Camphor is used externally as a counter-irritant in rheumatisms, sprains bronchitis, and in inflammatory conditions, and sometimes in conjunction with menthol and phenol for heart failure. It is used as an inhalant by the Chinese to revive people from fainting problems and also for various skin diseases and treatment of wounds.
Also used for treatment of rheumatic pains and muscle sprains.
Being a topical analgesic camphor ointment temporarily relieves itching and pain. Apply a thin layer to the affected area and gently rub in. But avoid getting the ointment in the eye, ear, nose and mouth. Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); severe irritation at the application site are some of the side effects of camphor ointment.
Should not be used for aromatherapy massage because of its high toxicity. But it is effective in vapor therapy to ease respiratory problems Camphor oil has analgesic, anti-depressant, anti-spasmodic, cardiac, carminative, diuretic, hypertensive, insecticide, laxative, and stimulant properties.
Camphor and culture
Camphor has a distinct flavor of mystery, a mystical aroma around it. The burning of camphor produces a distinctive, sharp aroma that has a special significance in different cultures. In Hindu rituals burning camphor before the deity signifies burning one's illusions or ego with the fire of true knowledge.
In other cultures, camphor is burnt to repel ghosts.
According to a Chinese belief, camphor oils must not be extracted from trees less than fifty years of age. This is probably because trees that produce the real camphor grow very slowly. Also the medicinal properties of camphor are not fully developed if the oil is extracted too quickly.
- Camphor is used as ingredient in many commercial ointments, salves, deodorants, disinfectants, insecticides, paint solvents, and soaps.
- While ingestion of camphor oil can be fatal -- white camphor oil from which poisonous chemicals are removed, is safe and is used as an active ingredient in some candies and cough drops. As white camphor contains substances that coat and soothe the lining of the upper respiratory system, it is quite effective as a cough suppressant.
In modern day herbalism, the essential oil of Camphor is one of the strongest oils available. Therefore caution must be exercised when using this particular oil. Do not use if pregnant or nursing, or if diagnosed with epilepsy or asthma. Do not take internally.
The oil contains 95 percent Lauric acid and 5 percent Oleic acid. The oil can be used in the manufacture of foam booster, glycerol and cosmetics.
Camphor oil offers a number of benefits for dry skin. It relieves itching and promotion of circulation. It is also a great all-natural remedy for dry skin and its symptoms, and can also be used as a cough suppressant.
Harmful Side Effects
Overexposure to camphor fumes can be toxic. So it is advisable to avoid inhaling particularly for people with seizure disorders.
Symptoms of camphor toxicity occur within 5-15 min after ingestion and include nausea and vomiting, oral and intestinal burning, and a feeling of warmth and headache. If not attended to immediately, these symptoms develop to confusion, vertigo, excitement, restlessness, delirium, hallucinations, tremors, and/or convulsions.
Camphor should never be ingested orally as it may cause conditions like tachycardia, visual disturbances, urinary retention, albuminuria and elevations of liver enzymes. In advanced stages toxicity leads to depression and sometimes coma. Death can occur from respiratory failure or status epilepticus. Ingestion of even little as 700 to 1000 mg of camphor has been known to be fatal in children. Once seizure takes place it can be managed, both in adults and children, with the use of benzodiazepines and/or barbiturates.
Did you know?
- A quick way to identify a Camphor laurel is to crush some leaves in order to smell the pungent and distinctive camphor odor.
- For over 5000 years camphor has been used as an antibacterial agent in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and as an antiseptic to fight fever and malaria in Africa.
What can I do about it?
- Bear in mind that the Camphor Laurel can be an aggressive non-native pest while choosing saplings to plant in the neighbourhood.
- Keep Camphor out of the reach of children.
- Always bear in mind that Camphor should not be swallowed.
- Wash hands thoroughly after touching Camphor.