scientific name: Cinnamomum camphora
other common names: Alcanfor
growing areas: Once native to China, now cultivated, in numerous tropical and subtropical areas
physical description: The tree is an evergreen that can grow up to 100 feet in height. Its leaves start out as red but change to a darker shade of green as the tree matures. It produces oval red berries and fragrant yellow flowers.
Camphor is obtained from the tree by steam distillation.
traditional uses: In Puerto Rican households, camphor-based rubbing ointments are commonly used on the back and chest to treat respiratory problems such as the common cold.
In Latin America, a solution of camphor in wine used as a liniment is a folk remedy for tumors. In Mexico, according to James Duke, a mix of camphor and olive oil is popular for treating bruises and neuralgia. Camphor is also used to treat muscle aches, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, and lung congestion. It has been used as a rubifacient. Small doses have been taken internally for diarrhea and colds.
availability and dosage: Camphor is sold in botani-cas as small, semisolid, translucent blocks. It is also contained in some well-known products such as Vicks VapoRub.
Commission E recommends external use of semisolid preparations that contain 10 to 20 percent camphor. contraindications: Camphor can cause a burning sensation on injured skin. It is also not advisable to use it on the facial areas of small children and infants.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Medical journals have reported cases of seizures believed to have been brought on by camphor. Contact eczema is possible when used externally. While Commission E indicates that camphor can be taken internally, a 1994 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs stated that ingestion of camphor can cause life-threatening problems. Toxic effects are said to include convulsions, dizziness, coma, and death.
medical research: Camphor was one of a number of essential oils of plants said to be a powerful convulsant, according to one medical survey that tracked incidents involving three adults and one child who suffered from seizures. New Zealand researchers also reported the case of one twenty-month-old girl who suffered a seizure after ingesting camphor and had to be put on a ventilator. The child survived.