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Camphor

Cinnamomum camphora

Herbs gallery - Camphor



Common names

  • Camphor
  • Camphor Tree

The plant called the camphor is used in the preparation of incense - also called camphor - it is also used for the preparation of various herbal remedies and other wood products. This evergreen tree can reach a height of up to 100 ft or 30 m tall when it is fully grown. The young leaves of the camphor tree are a characteristic red color and they slowly turn dark green as they grow older, the tree also bears a number of small and fragrant flowers which are yellow in color, following the floral bloom, the camphor bears oval red berries in season.

In the old days, fragrant camphor wood was used in the manufacture of sailor's chests and this hardy wood was traditionally used for this purpose. The wood of the camphor is especially suited to be used in this role, as it is both durable and strong, it is very resistant to the corrosive ravages of salty air and water, the chemicals in the fragrant wood act as a repellent to clothes moths, and the wood itself is immune to the majority of wood boring insects, made into fine chest and trunks, the wood has helped safe the clothes of a lot of sailors down the ages. The fragrant wood has many chemicals which give it this particular quality, a chemical called 2-bornanone is the best known among these organic chemical constituents. The chemical is also called camphor; it is a very strong moth repellent and is traditionally used as incense in many Asian cultures.

Originally a species native to East Asia, the evergreen tree was traditionally used extensively in many East Asian cultures as a source for fragrant incense and wood. The fragrant smell of the follower in full bloom can fill the air with a characteristic sweet fragrance when the plant flowers, the camphor tends to grow in terrain at elevations from 4,000 to 7,000 feet above  sea level and is restricted to cooler climes. The full growth and massiveness of the wild tree is never reached in camphor trees grown in managed and cultivated woods. The cultivation of camphor trees is normally for harvesting the leathery leaves and not the durable wood, and for this the trees are usually kept pruned to remain at five or six feet in height for easy collection of the leaves. Camphor the commercial fragrant compound is prepared from the harvested aromatic leaves. In the process, the leaves are collected from the tress about three or four times each year, they are then processed and the oil is extracted from them. The oil is distilled into the colorless camphor crystals that are commercially exported to different parts of the world; the trade in camphor is very lucrative.

Cultures in the orient have been centers for the extraction of camphor for more than a millennium; the use of the camphor leaves for this purpose is a practice began only in the last century as more scientific and efficient methods were found. Traditionally, before the discovery of more efficient techniques, extraction of the camphor crystals was done by steam distillation of the trunks, the roots, and the branches of seventy to eighty year old trees - this wasteful method necessitated the entire tree to be felled. The camphor gained popularity in the United States and in Europe around the turn of the 19th century, when it came to be seen as an all around nostrum and correspondingly the demand for the product began to take a toll on tree populations, populations of camphor in the wild was depleted and the species ran the risk of extinction. This prompted the need to evolve novel and efficient scientific methods for the extraction of camphor in the industrial age. New techniques of commercial extraction of camphor have saved the species.

Many different commercial products are obtained from the camphor, products such as insecticides, deodorants and disinfectants, explosives and paint solvents, natural perfumes and soaps are some of the non-medical related commercial products derived from the camphor tree. Due to the commercial value of the tree, the wood prohibitively expensive and while it is possible to obtain sufficient wood of the camphor to make a mothproof chest, it may not come cheap. The tree called the C. cassia, which is a closely related species, is used to extract aromatic oil of cinnamon (not related to the spice), this oil is a very widely used in a variety of commercial products, such as soap, fragrant mouthwash, and products like incense and scented candles. The very famous spice, cinnamon, is derived from the C. zeylanicum species.

Parts used

Stems, root, wood, leaves, twigs, volatile oil.

Uses

All types of arthritic and rheumatic pains affecting patients, problems like neuralgia, and back pain can be treated using camphor - it is a herbal counterirritant and most often used as an analgesic liniment for topical treatment of different disorders. The analgesic qualities of the camphor also make it an useful liniment for direct application to treat all sorts of skin problems, it is used in the treatment of different disorders like cold sores and chilblains, for the treatment of bronchitis and different infections of the chest - camphor is directly rubbed on the chest as a herbal topical treatment measure. Camphor oil must not be consumed, though it has been used as a liniment in the treatment of various external and physical disorders.

Traditionally, the practice in folk medicine as a cure for cold and related illnesses was to make the affected person wear a little bag or sachet around the neck, this contained camphor crystals - this was a very common treatment method in the old days. The physical pains associated with external bruises, all kinds of sprains, with severe inflammations, with problems like gout, and with rheumatic joints was carried out traditionally by rubbing the oil of camphor into the affected areas of the body. Though not advised or practiced nowadays, the oil of camphor was also consumed as a treatment for hysteria, to treat epilepsy, and to treat heart problems in patients - the actual benefits of this treatment is not known. Different respiratory disease such as asthma, persistent bronchitis and emphysema affecting patients was also treated by inhalations of the camphor fumes; this was a very common method of treatment for all afflictions affecting the respiratory system.

The consumption of camphor to some extent, an exposure to its fumes has been known to cause toxicity and poisoning-facts confirmed in clinical tests. Therefore the use of camphor in these ways is now prohibited since prolonged exposure to the fumes and more so, the ingestion of camphor can be very dangerous to patients. For this reason, the use of camphor in the United States is now limited to topical lotions and liniments for external use only, these can help in relieving the superficial pain and symptomatic itching caused by different disorders. Some ingestible products such as soft drinks and cough drops, and some types of candy still contain white camphor oil, mainly for fragrance - this form of the oil is not toxic as the poisonous substance has been removed from the oil and it is quite safe for consumption.

Habitat and cultivation

The camphor tree is a species endemic and native to east Asia, mainly China and Japan. These days, cultivation of the camphor tree is carried out in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world, mainly as a source for the durable camphor wood - this wood is the base for the extraction of commercial camphor oil.

Constituents

The main chemical constituents of the volatile oil in the camphor tree are a mixture of the compounds safrole, the chemical compound eugenol, and the terpineol. The compounds called lignans are also found in large quantities in the camphor tree. The compound safrole found in camphor oil is though to be a potential carcinogen, in general the camphor works as an herbal irritant and antiseptic mainly due to the action of its volatile oil. The product called camphor, which is the white crystalline chemical derivative sourced from the stems, the roots, and the other parts of the camphor tree, is a very powerful and potent antiseptic, it is also a very good stimulant, and has strong anti-spasmodic actions in the body.

Comments

From Seedorf - Feb-24-2011
Camphor in some part of Africa has been used extensively in the treatment of gonorrhea infection.
From Cheryl
My dad who grew up on the farm always had mom keep a block of camphor in with her silver place settings to retard it from tarnishing. She never had to polish her silver. An aunt told me farmers use to keep it in their small tool chests to retard rust also.
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