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The Marvels of Camphor

Gagan Dhir

Camphor tastes bitter but surprisingly has many medicinal effects. Camphor is famous old home remedy for many conditions such as blemishes and many other skin conditions.


Unknown to most people, the traditional source of camphor is a large, handsome, evergreen tree- Cinnamon Camphora. In India, the camphor tree is cultivated mainly in the Nilgiris and also in some botanical gardens in the north. Camphor is obtained by steam distillation of its wood and leaves. Other sources of camphor are certain species of ocimum, a genus of the well-known tulsi plant. Camphor can also be obtained from the root, bark and oil of the cinnamon tree, simply by allowing the oil to stand for some time so that the camphor seperates.

Camphor usually finds its place in the pharmaceutical and perfume industry. Translucent aromatic and highly volatile; camphor has long been an important item of ritual worship, notably havans. Easily ignited, chunks of camphor help get the sacrificial fire going. They also release strong smelling vapour, said to purify the air. It is believed that while dieties like this vapour, evil spirits flee before it, hence camphor is deemed sacred. Known to Romans and red Indians, camphor has always formed part of traditional medicine.

Amritdhara
Back home, Ayurveda has made camphor a household name. In combination with thymol and methol, it forms the wellknown remedy Amritdhara, a specific for mild stomach disorders and helpful even in cases of gastro-enteritis and cholera. It is interesting to know that when combined with thymol and methol, chunks of camphor rapidly turn to liquid. Amritdhara is also beneficial in cases of nausea and vomiting. Being a carminative, correcting indigestion and flatulence; it forms the backbone of an indigenous first-aid kit.

Fast Facts

  • Relieves indigestion
  • Relieves pain
  • Acts as an expectorant
  • Nourishes skin
  • Is an insect repellant
An Analgesic
Camphor has a smell so powerful and distinctive, you can’t keep it down. It is widely used in balms and liniments as a counter irritant. A few grains of camphor dissolved in mustard oil and placed in the sun for some time forms a very useful liniment for cases of rheumatism, muscular pains, neuralgia, lumbago and stiff joints. Acting as an analgesic, it also facilitates movements.

An Expectorant
Since camphor is excreted in the breath, it is believed to clean out the respiratory tract. A few drops of oil of camphor added to a hot bath have a beneficial effect on respiratory system. Traditionally, camphor is used in the treatment of respiratory complaints, particularly where phlegm is present. It is an expectorant, bringing relief to patients of chest pain and chronic bronchitis. As an anti spasmodic, it helps patients of asthma and pneumonia. Dissolved in a bland oil and used as nasal paint, it is useful in influenza and common colds.

Camphor staves off the effect of a chill. In a state of shock and collapse, it stimulates and strengthens the heart, helping to settle irregular heartbeats.

An Antiseptic
Camphor has antiseptic properties, which is why it forms an ingredient in some toothpastes and toothpowders. Not only is camphor useful when taken internally, it is also recommended for external use. Camphor not only has antiseptic and germicidal properties, it also helps to heal inflammatory skin conditions and allergic rashes.

An Insect Repellant
Camphor is also known to be an insect repellent. If you have access to a camphor tree, here’s how to make yourself an aromatic sachet to keep in your cupboard. Gather a few handful of camphor leaves, dry them in the shade and crush them lightly. Fill a small cloth bag with these leaves, stitch the top and hang the bag up among your clothes. It will exude a mild fragrance, enough to discourage moths while lending a mystique to whatever you wear.

Not only is camphor useful when taken internally, it is also recommended for external use. Camphor not only has antiseptic and germicidal properties, it also helps to heal inflammatory skin conditions and allergic rashes.

Skin Conditioner
Camphor is a famous old home remedy for clearing up blemishes and shrinking large pores. Unless the skin is very dry, camphor can profitably be combined with alum, for dramatic results.

The French queen Marie Antoinette and her band of court beauties are said to have used a face mask made by beating the whites of four eggs together with one grain of camphor and (sometimes) one of alum, until stiff. The mixture was fluffed all over the face and allowed to remain for one hour. In fact, it was spread over the neck and arms as well, so they came through clean and glowing, a perfect compliment to the face. If you suffer from a blotchy skin but would rather leave the eggs alone, try steaming the face gently with two or three drops of spirit of camphor added to the water. Red and rough hands also benefit by a good rub down with a lump of camphor.

Camphor tastes bitter but surprisingly it is used as a flavouring agent for sweets and confectionary. And in West Bengal, it is even added to drinking water to make it safer during the summer and monsoon seasons when gastric infections are feared.

How to Use Camphor as an Insect Repellant?
Gather a few handful of camphor leaves, dry them in the shade and crush them lightly. Fill a small cloth bag with these leaves, stitch the top and hang the bag up among your clothes. It will exude a mild fragrance, enough to discourage moths while lending a mystique to whatever you wear.

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