Camphor has a chemical formula of C10H16O. It has a strong aromatic odor and is highly flammable. It is seen in trees related to the laurel family, such as Ocotea usambarensis. The dried leaves of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), which belong to the mint family contain a composition of up to 20% camphor.

It is a terpenoid with a white or transparent solid like appearance that has a waxy texture.

It’s also found in large evergreen trees of Sumatra, Indonesia and Borneo in Asia, kapur tree which is a tall timber tree from the same region, and the wood of the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora).

Besides this, camphor can also be synthetically produced from the oil of turpentine.  Another major resource of camphor spotted in Asia is the parent of African blue basil, which is also known as camphor basil.

Uses of Camphor:

Camphor is usually used for its scent; commonly used in India for the purpose of cooking and medicine, as an embalming fluid in religious ceremonies. Camphor can also be used as a plasticizer for nitrocellulose in explosives, fireworks and in certain explosive ammunition.

While looking through Arabic language cook books, and through the history of ancient and medieval Europe, we see that camphor is used for cooking both sweet and savory dishes as well.

As of today, most sweets of Asia use camphor as a flavoring agent. In India it’s known as kachha karpooram or “pachha karpoora” in the common tongue and is available in Indian grocery stores under the label of “edible camphor”. It’s also used as a pest deterrent and preservative.

Since its properties make it toxic to insects, it’s also used as a repellent. In India it’s commonly used as mothballs and kept to protect clothes in the cupboard.  Ironically, camphor crystals are used to avoid damage to insect collections by other small insects.

Therapeutic Uses of Camphor:

Camphor as an essential oil has the properties of an antispasmodic, stimulant, anti-neuralgic, decongestant, sedative, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, antiseptic, and nervous pacifier, disinfectant, and insecticide substance.

The property of camphor makes it easily absorbed through the skin; using this ability camphor is used as a local anesthetic and antimicrobial substance. It is also commonly used as a decongestant, and a cough suppressant; it’s used along with menthol in vapor-steam products, such as Vicks VapoRub.

Camphor was also used in ancient Sumatra to treat sprains, swellings, and inflammation. It also dates back to the 18th century, where camphor was used by Auenbrugger to treat mania. Camphor dissolved in alcohol was used in 1854-1855 to treat the cholera epidemics in Naples.

Camphor as an Anesthetic & Nervous Pacifier:

Camphor when applied to an area causes lack of sensation of the sensory nerves and reduces the severity of nervous disorders and convulsions, nervousness, epileptic attacks, and chronic anxiety; hence it acts as a good anesthetic and is very effective for local anesthesia.

A study on ‘The anaesthetic effect of camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)’ was conducted, where the aim of this study was to assess the use of camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), mint (Mentha arvensis), and clove (Syzygium aromaticum), essential oils as anesthetics on clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris).

The result proved that “all of the essential oils exhibited the biological activity of an anesthetic on the specimen A. ocellaris. The 27, 70 and 500 μL L−1 concentrations of clove, mint, and camphor oils promoted surgical anaesthesia after 310.5, 312.0, and 535.0 s (medians) respectively.”

Camphor in Treatment of Cancer, Diabetes & Alzheimer’s:

Camphor has been used traditionally for many years, on its own and in combination with other chemicals in the treatment for inflammation and irritation in body and skin, and for the relief of pain. It has been used for centuries, all around the globe in the treatment of a variety of symptoms such as inflammation, infection, congestion, pain, irritation, etc.

Several studies have proved that some of the components of Cinnamomum camphora achieve suppressive and anti-mutagenic results on a variety of human cancer cells without harming the healthy cells.

A study on ‘Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), a traditional remedy with the history of treating several diseases’ focused on making use of camphor as a quick household medication  to solve day to day minor problems; as well as looking into information about the new applications of this traditionally used, naturally occurring medication to treat or prevent some critical acute diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Since Cinnamomum camphora has been very effective in treating and preventing some serious, life threatening diseases; Camphor and its components should be investigated further as a viable option in the treatment of different types of cancer.

Additionally, more studies on the application of camphor for patients with memory disorders and brain dysfunctions such as in autism and Alzheimer’s are needed.

Reference Links:

  1. Camphor by Wikipedia
  2. The anaesthetic effect of camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), clove (Syzygium aromaticum) and mint (Mentha arvensis) essential oils on clown anemonefish, Amphiprion ocellaris, published in
  3. Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), a traditional remedy with the history of treating several diseases published in the International Journal of Case Reports and Images