Cinnamonum camphora

Botanical Name : Cinnamonum camphora
Family:     Lauraceae
Genus:     Cinnamomum
Species:     Cinnamomum camphora
Kingdom:     Plantae
Order:     Laurales

Synonyms:  Laurel Camphor. Gum Camphor.

Common Names :Camphor, Camphor tree, Camphorwood or camphor laurel

Habitat : Cinnamomum camphora is native to China south of the Yangtze River, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and has been introduced to many other countries.It grows  on the banks of streams in China, to elevations of 750 metres.

Cinnamomum camphora is a large evergreen tree that grows up to 20–30 metres tall. The leaves have a glossy, waxy appearance and smell of camphor when crushed. In spring it produces bright green foliage with masses of small white flowers. It produces clusters of black berry-like fruit around one centimetre in diameter. It has a pale bark that is very rough and fissured vertically.

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Landscape Uses:Pest tolerant, Aggressive surface roots possible, Street tree. Succeeds in most soils but prefers a fertile sandy moisture-retentive well-drained soil in full sun or light part-day shade. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.3 to 8. Camphor is grown commercially in China and Japan as a medicinal tree and also for its essential oil. It is only hardy in the milder areas of Britain, though it can survive occasional lows down to about -10°c when fully dormant. The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun. There are various large trees that are growing well in Cornwall. A very slow growing tree. The roots are very sensitive to disturbance. There are some named varieties, selected for their ornamental value. Special Features: Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, Naturalizing, Attracts butterflies, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

Seed – the seed has a short viability and is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a greenhouse. Remove the fruit pulp since this can inhibit germination. Germination can take 1 – 6 months at 20°c. Stored seed should be sown as soon as possible in a warm greenhouse. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Consider giving them some protection from the cold for at least their first two winters outdoors. Cuttings of semi-ripe side shoots, 7cm with a heel, June/July in a frame with bottom heat.

Edible Uses :
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Young shoots and leaves – cooked. Some caution is suggested because there is a report that the plant is poisonous in large quantities. The old leaves are dried and used as a spice.
Chemical Constituents:
Camphor laurel contains volatile chemical compounds in all plant parts, and the wood and leaves are steam distilled for the essential oils. Camphor laurel has six different chemical variants called chemotypes, which are camphor, linalool, 1,8-cineole, nerolidol, safrole, or borneol. In China field workers avoid mixing chemotypes when harvesting by their odour. The cineole fraction of camphor laurel is used in China to manufacture fake “Eucalyptus oil“.

The chemical variants (or chemotypes) seem dependent upon the country of origin of the tree. The tree is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan. It has been introduced to the other countries where it has been found, and the chemical variants are identifiable by country. e.g., Cinnamomum camphora grown in Taiwan and Japan is normally very high in Linalool, often between 80 and 85%. In India and Sri Lanka the high camphor variety/chemotype remains dominant. Cinnamomum camphora grown in Madagascar, on the other hand, is high in 1,8 Cineole (averaging between 40 and 50%. The essential oil from the Madagascar trees is commercially known as Ravintsara

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.

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.

This native of China is the source of camphor, which is somewhat antiseptic, acts as a circulatory stimulant, and has a calming effect in cases of hysteria, general nervousness, and neuralgia.  The distilled oil has been used to treat diarrhea, rheumatism, and muscular pains.  It is commonly applied externally as a counterirritant and analgesic liniment.  It may also be applied to skin problems, such as cold sores and chilblains and used as a chest rub for bronchitis and other chest infections.  It is used for bronchitis and asthma to control hypersecretion, for exhaustion, depression, stomachache and abdominal pain, to stimulate blood and energy circulation, remove excess moisture, and kill insects/worms.  It is effective externally against parasites, ringworm, scabies and to stop itch.  Camphor is frequently found in oils for external use, as it opens the lungs, relieves congestion and helps to relieve muscle tension and joint pain.  It also is used for arthritic and rheumatic pains and pains of trauma and injury (although it should not be applied directly to open wounds).  It is used as a smelling salt and given internally in small amounts to revive a patient from delirium or coma.  A piece of camphor attached to childrens’ underclothing will help to protect them from contagious diseases.  As an incense it purifies the air.   Small doses act to stimulate respiration; large doses can be toxic by stopping respiration.  Doctors have disagreed as to whether camphor will stop heart fibrillation, and whether it is a heart stimulant, as is widely believed in Europe. Camphor is used in Ayurveda locally, to numb the peripheral sensory nerves and as a counterirritant in rheumatisms and sprains and inflammatory conditions. In Latin America, a solution of camphor in wine used as a liniment if a folk remedy for tumors.  In Mexico, a mix of camphor and olive oil is popular for treating bruises and neuralgia.

Other Uses:
Deodorant; Essential; Preservative; Repellent; Wood.

The essential oil ‘camphor’ is obtained from the leaves and twigs. It is extracted commercially by passing a current of steam through the wood chips, 30 kilos of wood yielding 1 kilo of camphor. Camphor is used medicinally, in perfumes, as an insecticide and also to make celluloid and as a wood preservative. It can also be put in shoes to cure perspiring feet (probably by acting as a deodorant rather than preventing perspiration). The wood has been burnt as a fumigant during epidemics. Wood – beautifully grained, light brownish, takes a good polish. It is used for making furniture, cabinets, the interior finish of buildings etc.

Known Hazards :The plant is poisonous in large quantities.  Large doses can cause respiratory failure in children. See the report below on medicinal uses for more information.

The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider


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