Camphor is a waxy substance that has a strong aroma. Traditionally it was harvested from the camphor laurel tree, but today it is can also be synthesized in the laboratory. There are two possible enantiomers—non-superimposable mirror images—for camphor, the R-form, and the S-form. The R-form is the naturally-occurring form.
Camphor can be produced from alpha-pinene and can also be distilled from turpentine.
The word “camphor” is taken from camphre, a French word which is itself derived from the medieval latin term camfora and the Arabic kafur.
Though it is possible to produce camphor synthetically from the oil of turpentine, in most cases it is obtained through the extraction of camphor from trees of the same name. There are two types of the camphor tree. The most common is the Cinnamomum camphora, and the second, less common variety, is the Borneo camphor tree, which goes under the scientific name of Dryobalanops camphora. Both of these have similar properties, but the two have slightly different chemical compositions and aromas.1
Uses for Camphor
There are several health benefits associated with camphor, and it has been used medicinally throughout history, especially in the areas where it is found natively. The key health benefits that camphor provides are highlighted below.2
Improves Respiratory Function
When inhaled as an aerosol, camphor can be an effective expectorant. It is good for relieving congestion and improving breathing. It can help with coughs, colds, and runny noses.
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The powerful aroma of camphor also makes it a good decongestant that can help open up the bronchi, pharynx, larynx, and nasal tracts. Because of these properties, it is often used in decongestant balms and cold rubs.
Camphor oil is a good stimulant that helps boost metabolism, as well as digestion and circulation. This means that it can make you feel more awake and alert.
Additionally, camphor oil can act as a strong antimicrobial agent. It has historically been used as a way to disinfect water, and it can also be used as a topical treatment to prevent skin infections.
Leaving an open bottle of camphor oil in a room will keep insects away, and some gardeners burn rags soaked in camphor oil to drive away pests.
Alleviates Stress and Anxiety
Some individuals find that camphor is calming and can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
Camphor has a cooling effect, which can make it an effective anti-inflammatory agent. This is particularly useful for individuals suffering from conditions like arthritis because it can help reduce symptoms like swelling and provide pain relief. 3
The stimulant effects of camphor have been shown to boost the libido because camphor acts on the part of the brain responsible for controlling desire.
Camphor oil is safe in moderation for use in aromatherapy and topical application and blends well with basil, chamomile, lavender, cajuput, and Melissa essential oils. As part of your daily routine, it has the potential to provide you with the range of health benefits discussed above.
Chemical formula for camphor: C10H16O
Molar mass: 152.3 g/mol
Boiling point: 209°C (408.2°F; 482.2 K)
Melting point: 175°C (347°F; 448.2 K)
Natural sources: camphor laurel tree, other laurel trees, oil from rosemary leaves, camphorweed