Borneol is an alcohol belonging to the terpene family and its chemical formula is C10H18O. This naturally occurring organic compound has a white color with a scent similar to camphor. Borneol is obtained from essential oils of many different plant species that are indigenous to Southeast Asia as well as Borneo - the organic compound got its name owing to its association with Borneo in Indonesia. However, the term borneol also refers to various mixtures used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) containing the compound. Occasionally, these mixtures are also called Borneo or even borneol camphor.

Borneol is also referred to as borneol camphor because the compound is somewhat akin to camphor. In effect, borneol can be chemically changed to the compound that yields camphor via oxidation. On the other hand, it is possible to produce synthetic borneol by breaking down camphor. Borneol is used in several other chemical processes as a catalyst or the basis for synthesizing other compounds.

Borneol, in scientific terms, is a bicyclic organic chemical as well as a terpene. This compound's hydroxyl group is found in an endo position. The exo isomer of borneol is known as isoborneol.

When we talk about borneol, we actually mean a specific chemical compound as well as a blend of similar compounds (one of which is borneol) in resinous crude substance that is obtained from specific herbs. In fact, borneol forms one of the active components of artemisia, which also includes other aromatic chemicals having the same chemical structure and therapeutic function. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), borneol is used in the form of moxa, an early account of which is available in Bencao Gangmu. In Chinese medicine, borneol (in the form of a raw resin) as well as artemisia are used both internally and topically. Basically, moxa is grated artemisia that is burnt on or close to the patient's body with a view to generate local heating, in addition to producing an effect from the substance being used as a moxa - possibly passing on borneol as well as other active elements to the body. This article explores the attributes, uses and inter-relations of artemisia, borneol, and moxa.

Borneol oxidizes very easily to form a compound that yields camphor. Therefore, traditionally borneol is also known as Borneo camphor, suggesting that it has a relationship with camphor. On the other hand, synthesis of borneol is possible by reducing camphor through a method known as the Meerwein-Ponndorf-Verley Reduction. A similar but faster and irretrievable reduction with sodium borohydride yields isoborneol in the form of a kinetically managed reaction product.

Naturally occurring borneol is found as thin, partially opaque, whitish crystals or angular pieces. The typical appearance of borneol gives the compound its present Chinese name bingpian - wherein "bing" denotes ice and "pian" means slice. Borneol was described in detail for the first time in the Bencao Gangmu (1596 A.D.). Interestingly, Bencao Gangmu did not call the substance Bingpian, but referred to as ai (the Chinese character that is used to denote aiye or artemisia). It is worth mentioning here that borneol's correlation between borneol and aiye (scientific name Artemisia argyii) is not unintentional. In fact, the active elements of aiye comprise borneol, cineole and camphor, which also form the main constituents of natural bingpian. Moreover, blumea, which is the local source of bingpian, belongs to the same plant family as artemisia (Chinese mugwort). They both are members of the family Compositae and it is not unusual for plants belonging to the same family to enclose the same chemical ingredients. Blumea is also known as ainaxiang - an aromatic herb having the same appearance as artemisia.

Similar to several other chemical amalgams, borneol has two different isomers (forms) that have chemically identical formula, but their individual atoms are arranged differently. While one of these forms is seen in nature, the second form is made synthetically. The form of borneol that occurs naturally produces light, which passes through its crystal and bends. On the other hand, the synthetic borneol isomer lacks this effect. In addition to the above two forms of borneol, there is a third isomer called isoborneol that is employed in specific procedures in organic chemistry.

Pure borneol has a whitish color. In its unadulterated form, this natural compound is a crystalline, composed of many small irregular shaped crystals. While borneol is used in several traditional Chinese medications as well as in a number of clinical applications in some other medicine forms, use of pure borneol causes skin and eye irritation, in addition to being an irritant for the respiratory system. In the United States, pure borneol is classified as mildly toxic and possibly detrimental when swallowed.

Apart from its therapeutic uses, borneol has other utilities too. This substance is especially use to make perfumes as well as other aromatic products. The harmful effects of borneol owing to exposure or consumption notwithstanding, this substance is occasionally used in very small quantities in the form of a flavoring agent and also in some non-prescription drugs, especially those available in Asia. However, some such products may also be sold in other regions of the world. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve the use of borneol as medicine in the United States. However, the FDA does not prohibit the use of borneol in the form of an ingredient and also products containing this substance. In fact, products containing borneol are labelled as "dietary supplements" or "herbal supplements" in the United States.

Health benefits

Traditional Chinese Medicine has used the terpene borneol for several centuries. Borneol occurs naturally in herbs like thyme, cinnamon, and also cannabis resin. Borneol has a pleasant smell, similar to that of camphor. It is also a natural insect repellent.

Traditionally, borneol has been employed with moxibustion, an acupuncture form that involves directly burning on the skin of the patient. In clinical studies it has been found that this use of borneol has helped breached infants. People in Asia use borneol for treating cardiovascular diseases. This organic compound possesses anti-coagulant or blood thinning properties. In addition, findings of several studies have revealed that borneol is also effective in treating inflammation, relieving pain and also eliminating odours.

The wound healing property of borneol is among its most beneficial uses. Very similar to the action of terpene myrcene, borneol also possesses the aptitude to lessen the blood brain barrier, allowing other medicines to penetrate as well as absorb more easily. This particular function of borneol enables the wounds to heal very rapidly.

Traditionally, it has been believed that fibrosis is an irreversible condition. Fibrosis involves an increase in tissues in the region of wounds and this condition may sometimes result in development of benign tumours, cirrhosis, and Crohn's disease, which are considered as forerunners of cancer. Findings of latest studies have demonstrated that use of borneol can actually reverse fibrosis.

Bingpian (also known as Borneol Flakes) is a very highly valued as well as rare herb native to China. This herb has not only been extensively studied, but also widely used by several generations of medical practitioners in ancient China. Findings of a number of contemporary pharmacological researches have shown that Bingpian has numerous direct therapeutic actions. Most often, this herb is categorized into species that traditionally induce resuscitation (reviving from unconsciousness). As a result, this herb is extremely popular in adjuvant therapy or treatment for various conditions, as it possesses wonderful transdermal delivery capability.

As stated by Jian Bian Dang Fang in his work "Simple and Single-drug Prescriptions", a blend of borneol and juice extracted from green onions is applied to treat both internal as well as external hemorrhoids.

Borneol also possesses anti-bacterial properties and, hence, this naturally occurring organic compound is effective for eliminating or inhibiting pathogenic bacteria that are often found in clinics and hospitals, including staphylococcus aureus, viridans streptococci and beta hemolytic streptococcus.

Borneol has anti-inflammatory actions. As a result, borneol as well as isoborneol can be used effectively to slow down rat paw edema that is brought on by egg white. However, these substances do not work as effectively in treating mouse ear edema caused by croton oil.

Borneol is present in several essential oils extracted from different plants and fruits. This organic compound is an effective natural mosquito repellent. In modern times, borneol is classified as a substance that opens up blocked orifices. This organic compound is said to be somewhat cold and possess a heady, bitter flavour. Borneol is recommended for treating acute blockage of the orifices, which may result in convulsive diseases or coma. In addition, this organic substance is also indicated for heat syndromes as well as for pain.

While borneol is not usually said to be effective for treating lung diseases, in present day clinical practice, it still forms a common addition to various therapies to cure lung ailments. In addition, borneol is applied externally, usually in combination with other substances, to treat an assortment of health conditions, especially for mouth sores, swelling in the throat, eye diseases, ear infections, boils, psoriasis, pain as well as cervical erosion.

Side effects and cautions

Findings of some medical studies undertaken on mice have shown that borneol may possibly result in miscarriage, especially during middle and the later part of pregnancy. While the rate of miscarriage during the mid-pregnancy stage has been found to be 100 percent, the chances are little less, about 91 percent, at late pregnancy. However, the effects of borneol during early stages of pregnancy have not been show clearly. Therefore, pregnant women should strictly avoid borneol. In addition, people who have been diagnosed with qi-blood deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) should also stay way from this naturally occurring organic chemical.