Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Cinnamonum camphora (T. NEES and EBERM.)
Family: N.O. Lauraceae

Synonyms: Laurel Camphor. Gum Camphor.
Part Used: Gum.
Habitat: China, Japan, and adjacent parts of East Asia. Formosa official in the U.S.P. Dryobalanops aromatica is indigenous to Borneo and Sumatra.

Description: Camphor is a white crystalline substance, obtained from the tree Cinnamonum camphora, but the name has been given to various concrete odorous volatile products, found in different aromatic plants. The commercial Camphor comes only from C. camphora and Dryobalanops camphora (fam. Dipterocarpacaea). The first gives our official Camphor, the latter the Borneo Camphor, which is much valued in the East, but unknown in Europe and America. C. camphora is an evergreen tree looking not unlike our linden; it grows to a great size, is manybranched, flowers white, small and clustered, fruit a red berry much like cinnamon. While the tree grows in China, etc., it can be cultivated successfully in sub-tropical countries, such as India and Ceylon, and it will thrive in Egypt, Formosa, Madagascar, Canary Islands and southern parts of Europe, California, Florida, and also in Argentina. It grows so slowly that the return financially is a long investment. Some growers think that Camphor cannot be taken from the trees till they are fifty years old. In Japan and Formosa the drug comes from the root, trunk and branches of the tree by sublimation, but there is less injury done to the tree in the American plantations, as it is taken there from the leaves and twigs of the oldest trees. A Camphor oil exudes in the process of extracting Camphor, which is valued by the Chinese, used for medicinal purposes. Two substances are found in commerce under the name of oil of Camphor: one is the produce of C. cinnamonum, and is known as Formosa or Japanese oil of Camphor; the other as East Indian oil of Camphor, from the D. aromatica but this oil is not found in European or American trade. It is less volatile than the other, and has a distinctive odour; it is highly prized by the Chinese, who use it for embalming purposes and to scent soap. The Chinese attribute many virtues to it. It is mentioned by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century and Camoens in 1571, who called it the 'balsam of disease.' During the last few years large quantities have come into the American and European markets as Japanese oil; it varies in quality and colour from a thin watery oil to a thick black one. It is imported in tin cans and varies greatly in the amount of Camphor it contains, some cans having had all the solid principle extracted before importation. The odour is peculiar, like sassafras and distinctly camphoraceous; this oil is said to be used in Japan for burning, making varnish and for Chinese inks, as a diluent for artists' colours; it has a capacity for dissolving resins that oil of Turps has not. The properties in the oil are much the same as in Camphor, but it is more stimulant and very useful in complaints of stomach and bowels, in spasmodic cholera and flatulent colic. It is also used as a rubefacient and sedative liniment, and if diluted with Olive oil or soap is excellent for local rheumatism, sprains, bruises, and neuralgia dose, 2 or 3 minims. There is an erroneous idea that Camphor acts as a preventive to infectious diseases. It is very acrid and in large doses very poisonous, and should be used cautiously in certain heart cases. It is a well-known preventive of moths and other insects, such as worms in wood; natural history cabinets are often made of it, the wood of the tree being occasionally imported to make cabinets for entomologists. The Dryobalanops oil of Camphor is said to be found in trees too young to produce Camphor, and is said to be the first stage of the development of Camphor, as it is found in the cavities of the trunk, which later on become filled with Camphor. Its chief constituent is an oil called Borneene. The D. aromatica tree, found in Sumatra and Borneo, grows to an enormous height, often over 100 feet, and trunk 6 or 7 feet in diameter. The Camphor of the older trees exists in concrete masses, in longitudinal cavities, in the heart of the tree, 1 1/2 feet long at certain distances apart. The only way of finding out if Camphor has formed in the tree is by incision. This Camphor is chiefly used for funeral rites, and any that is exported is bought by the Chinese at a high price, as they use it for embalming, it being less volatile than ordinary Camphor. Another Camphor called N'gai, obtained from the Blumea Balcamferi (Compositae), differs chemically from the Borneo species, being levogyrate, and is converted by boiling nitric acid, to a substance considered identical with stearoptene of Chrysanthemum parthenium. This plant grows freely in the author's garden, and is known in Great Britain as Double-flowered Bush Fever-Few.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Camphor has a strong, penetrating, fragrant odour, a bitter, pungent taste, and is slightly cold to the touch like menthol leaves; locally it is an irritant, numbs the peripheral sensory nerves, and is slightly antiseptic; it is not readily absorbed by the mucous membrane, but is easily absorbed by the subcutaneous tissue- it combines in the body with glucuronic acid, and in this condition is voided by the urine. Experiments on frogs show a depressant action to the spinal column, no motor disturbance, but a slow increasing paralysis; in mankind it causes convulsions, from the effect it has on the motor tract of the brain; it stimulates the intellectual centres and prevents narcotic drugs taking effect, but in cases of nervous excitement it has a soothing and quieting result. Authorities vary as to its effect on blood pressure; some think it raises it, others take an opposite view; but it has been proved valuable as an excitant in cases of heart failure, whether due to diseases or as a result of infectious fevers, such as typhoid and pneumonia, not only in the latter case as a stimulant to circulation, but as preventing the growth of pneumococci. Camphor is used in medicine internally for its calming influence in hysteria, nervousness and neuralgia, and for serious diarrhoea, and 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 often given hypodermically, 3 to 5 grains dissolved in 20 to 30 minims of sterile Olive oil - the effect will last about two hours. In nervous diseases it may be given in substance or in capsules or in spirit; dose 2 to 5 grains. Its great value is in colds, chills, and in all inflammatory complaints; it relieves irritation of the sexual organs.

Preparations and Dosages: Spirit of Camphor, B.P., 5 to 20 drops. Tincture of Camphor Comp., B.P. (Paregoric), 1/2 to 1 drachm. Camphor water, B.P., 1 to 2 OZ. Liniment of Aconite, B.P. Liniment of Belladonna, B.P. Liniment of Camphor Comp., B.P. Liniment of Opium, B.P. Liniment of Soap, B.P. Liniment of Mustard, B.P. Liniment of Turpentine, B.P. Liniment of Turpentine and Acetic Acid, B.P. Spirit of Camphor, B.P., 5 to 20 drops. Tincture of Camphor Comp., B.P.