Are you familiar with camphor and the healing properties of this essential oil?
Used for its medicinal and aromatic properties since time immemorial, camphor’s health benefits are not only well-known but wide-ranging, from being used as an expectorant, antiseptic and analgesic to having antibacterial, anti-fungal and insect repelling properties. A lump of camphor was placed around the arm, in what are known as burlap, to help protect against infection, according to folklore. While its specific effects may not have been completely known then, its use is firmly established in modern medicine; here we will look at how you can make use of it as a home remedy in the treatment of many ailments.
How does the oil derive from camphor? The pure, waxy crystalline substance was historically obtained from wood and branches of the fragrant evergreen Cinnamomum Camphora tree through a distillation cycle. But most natural camphor today is drained from the leaves to preserve the tree’s survival. That said, the bulk of the camphor on the market today has been synthetically produced from turpentine oil since 1930. While the Cinnamomum Camphora is native to China, Taiwan and Japan, several countries, including North America, have been introduced since then.
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Renowned for its pungent aromatic smell, when its leaves are crushed, the tree is identifiable by its distinct scent. Valued as an early Christian and Islamic holy perfume it is still used today in Hindu pooja ceremonies. The Persian Šāh-nāma text speaks of how highly coveted it was for its smell, and confirms the use of kāpūr (Camphor) during the Sasanian Empire, the last Persian pre-Islam state, to embalm corpses.
Its strongly founded use as an expectorant in modern medicine will explain why our ancestors wear it round their necks according to folklore. This is known as being an effective chest rub when combined with olive oil for croup treatment in the apothecary of Henry Hughes, who was born in 1825, and a pioneer in natural medicine. Now licensed for these purposes by the FDA, it is one of the principal ingredients in Vick’s Vaporub. When a camphor-containing cream or ointment is rubbed onto the body, camphor vapors are released as a result of body heat which help loosen the mucus and clear the lungs when inhaled. Use a steam vaporizer, it may also be inhaled to help control coughs by delivering a local anesthetic response to throat.
One research has shown that camphor essential oil has an anti-microbial effect on Streptococci bacteria, which can cause a variety of infections that vary in severity from mild throat infections to life-threatening blood or organ infections. This has also been found to suppress Enterococcus faecalis, a bacteria that can sometimes cause intestinal problems. However, a 2015 study found camphecene as a camphor derivative to be effective in inhibiting influenza A and B viruses, paving the way for further research into its use as a possible antiviral and further validating why our ancestors may have worn it out to avoid disease.
This is commonly used as an ingredient in many topical items from the treatment of cold sores, insect stings and bites to mild burns and hemorrhoids, having been licensed by the FDA for topical use as an analgesic and anesthetic in concentrations of 3% to 11%. For example, tiger balm blends camphor with menthol, both having the effect of activating receptors that cool the skins and thus masking the underlying pain. While used for centuries as an analgesic and studies confirming its efficacy in desensitizing sensory nerves, its exact mechanism of action is unknown. Nonetheless, studies also suggest it increases blood supply in both the skin and the muscle. Through this, we can draw the inference that is beneficial for circulation.
Camphor can also be used as an insect repellent, and is particularly used to keep mosquitoes at bay. This works in a way similar to citronella by masking the odor of our body’s carbon dioxide and chemicals, which is what first attracts mosquitos. To keep a space mosquito free, simply place a few tablets in a bowl of water or burn the essential oil, preferably. One of its applications is for shielding clothes as an all-natural solution to mothballs, while eliminating the toxic naphthalene and its adverse effects. To do this, you should dilute 1 drop to around 6ml of carrier oil and dispense it onto balls of cotton wool.
Furthermore, it was found that camphor oil is effective as an anti-fungal agent. By raising the blood flow, which in turn brings more fungus fighting cells to the infected region, it is thought to be effective in treating nail fungi, with the added advantage of its analgesic effects providing relief.
Dose & Toxicity
While there is a tradition of it being used internally in medicine to treat paranoia, epilepsy and heart-related ailments, it is extremely poisonous and to prevent ingestion. This is not considered appropriate for use during pregnancy. Only white essential camphor oil should be used, it is known that the brown and yellow camphor oils are not only highly toxic but also carcinogenic. This should also be diluted in amounts of approximately 1 drop to 6ml of carrier oil, possibly a skin irritant. You can also put 5 to 10 droplets in your water.
Growing your own Camphor Tree
Originating in China, Taiwan and Japan, Cinnamomum Camphora trees are now growing in many parts of Asia, as well as in Egypt, Formosa, Madagascar, the Canary Islands, Argentina, Brazil, Southern Europe and the Pacific Coast and Gulf regions of the United States. When you live in one of these areas you might be considering growing a tree on your land and investing in an essential oils distillery that can be bought online.
This evergreen grows glossy green oval leaves in the spring, with distinct yellowish streaks and a mass of colored cream flowers. It requires fertile sandy soil with a pH between 4.3 and 8 in order to grow, and benefits from full sun or partial shade. Though it requires water when first transplanted, once established it can withstand droughts.
But be warned, they grow very high, between 50 -150 feet tall (depending on the region) and are able to spread twice as far, with rapid root expansion! They were declared an invasive species in Florida, for this reason. The thousands of berries on your land, much loved by bird-life will result in thousands of seedlings. Also bear in mind that although the leaves can be used readily, it is not possible to harvest the wood from the trees until it is at least 50 years old.
Making your own camphor solution
If it’s not an option to distill your own camphor oil, the oil/tablets can be bought from health food stores. To order to make your own camphor solution, you should put the equivalent of 2 tablespoons of ground camphor crystals and add two cups of coconut oil to a saucepan; the liquid will be flammable so be careful to heat gently until the crystals have dissolved. Alternatively, you can only leave camphor tablet balls to infuse into a carrier oil, and place them in a dark glass container.
Making your own Camphor Salve
Melt half a cup of coconut oil with about 2 ounces of waxed bees. When cooled, blend the essential eucalyptus oil in 10-15 drops with 5-10 drops of essential camphor or homemade oil and place it in a glass container. Pour into containers and, in about 15 minutes, it will harden.