Essential Oils


Camphor oil

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Camphor oil

Camphor is obtained from very large, hardy trees indigenous to Formosa, China and Japan, and has been successfully cultivated in other-sub-tropical countries such as India, Ceylon and Madagascar. The tree, an evergreen, grows slowly and may reach 100 feet in height, with a trunk between eight and ten feet in diameter. The trunk usually runs straight up for twenty to thirty feet before it branches out. The leaves are small, elliptical, and slightly serrated. The flowers are white, small, and clustered: the fruits are dark-red berries.

Camphor is present in every part of the tree, but takes many years to form, and trees are not touched until they are fifty years old. In the trunk it is present in masses twelve to eighteen inches long. It is extracted from the branches by chipping the wood, and then boiling in water. The camphor then rises to the surface, and becomes solid as the water cools. The oil is extracted  by steam distillation. It is clear, and has a pungent scent similar to that of Eucalyptus.

Camphor does not appear in English Herbals until the late seventeenth century, Joseph Miller writes: 'Camphire consists of hot subtile parts, resists putrefaction and malignant distemper, is good in putrid, pestilential fevers attended with delirium, or light-headedness. Outwardly used, it is of great service in all sorts of inflammations, St. Antony's Fire, opthalmia, burns and scalds. It is made use of as a corrector of cantharides: some people  hang it in a silk bag, about the neck to cure agues.'

There appears to be some confusion as to whether camphor is basically heating or cooling. Li Shih-Chen writes that camphor has a 'strong terebinthinate odor, and a warm, bitter, aromatic taste, with a somewhat cooling after taste'. Mrs grieve calls it  'cold to touch' and Dr Chandrashekar 'cold in action' . This is difficult to reconcile with Joseph Miller's comments, and with the fact that camphor is also used as a rubefacient and is a stimulant of the heart and circulation. Christian Samuel Hahnemann, the father of modern homoeopathy, throws considerable light on the matter:

'The action of this substance is very puzzling and difficult of investigation, even in the healthy organism because its action, more frequently than with any other remedy, alternates and becomes intermixed with the vital reactions of the organism. On this account it is often difficult to determine what belongs to the vital reactions of the body and what to the alternating effect due to the primary action of the camphor.'

 While puzzling over the action of camphor, I was reminded that yin and yang are not two opposing, fixed objects. Nor only is one always contained within the other, but there is a constant transformation from one into the other. As something becomes more and more yin it eventually reaches a stage of instability, since nothing can become totally yin, and then changes to predominantly yang.

The action of camphor is akin to yin changing into yang, and it shows both qualities quite strongly. At first sight it always appears to me as yin. Its action on the skin is cooling, and it is a useful anti-inflammatory agent. Everyone has felt how something very cold burns as if it were hot: the action of a cold agent can produce a strong reaction to heat, just as a cold wind on the face stimulates the circulation.

This, in many ways, represents the action of camphor. From Hahnemann's  comments  (which are based on considerable experience) we can see that its action depends, perhaps more than any other essence, on the state of the person it is applied to. If their state at the time is very yin this will precipitate the yang reaction; if they are more yang, the action of camphor may remain predominantly yin. 


 Latin Name Cinnamomum Camphora Family Lauraceae
Quality Yin Ruling Planet Saturn
Evapouration Rate   Odor Intensity 5
Essence From Wood Properties Uses
Analgesic Acne Anthelminic Bronchitis
Antidepressant Bruises Antispasmodic Cholera
Carminative Colds Diuretic Colic
Febrifuge Constipation Hypertensive Debility
Laxative Depression Rubefacient Diarrhoea
Sedative Fevers Stimulant (of circulation, digestion, heart and respiration Flatulence, Gout,Heart Failure, Hypotension
Sudorific Hysteria Vaso Constrictor (systemic) Inflammatory Affections
Vulnerary Insomnia Nervous tension, Pneumonia, Retention of urine, Rheumatism, Shock

Skin care, Sprains, Toothache, Tuberculosis,Ulcers,Vomiting,Wounds.


Being a powerful remedy is of great use in certain serious conditions. It is a strong heart stimulant, and may be given in cases of heart failure, whether due to extreme shock, cardiac disease, or as a result of infectious fevers, such as typhoid and pneumonia. It has other uses for pneumonia, being active against the pneumococcus bacteria, and also being a stimulant  of the circulation. In homeopathy, camphor is especially indicated  in coldness of the whole body (this will produce a strong yang reaction). Any condition where there is coldness  -  the common cold, a cold stomach, influenza, a fever accompanied by a feeling of coldness - indicates the use of camphor.

Because of its almost dual action camphor is also useful where there is a state of excess yang: a burning fever, rheumatic inflammation, a skin burn, or any other kind of inflammation. It is of considerable use in dressings for indolent wounds and ulcers, and as an ingredient in external applications for skins of the oily, acne type. Applied externally camphor numbs the peripheral nerve endings.

Its effect on the digestive system is antispasmodic, carmnitive, laxative, and it stimulates the flow of digestive juices. It is useful, not only in constipation, but also in diarrhoea, vomiting, colic, flatulence, and cholera. Camphor is best kept in reserve for the more serious ailmentary complaints, such as acute diarrhoea. It should not be habitually used as a laxative.

Camphor oil stimulates the heart and respiration, and raises low blood pressure. It is indicated when these functions are weakened. This may occur in a serious state of depression, after an operation, and during or after serious illness such as cholera or tuberculosis. Camphor effectively inhibits mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is a useful ingredient of inhalations and cought's,  colds, influenza, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and difficulty of breathing. It relieves irritation of the sexual organs, and is a powerful diuretic. It is said by some to be an aphrodisiac, and by others to be the opposite. The latter quality seems more likely.

It appears that camphor has a balancing effect on yin and yang. Hence its usefulness in conditions where this balance is either suddenly or seriously upset: shock, heart failure, hysteria, excess of heat or cold, infection. This balancing effect is also apparent in its effect on the nervous system. it stimulates languid depression, and sedates hysteria; it is of use in most psychosomatic or nervous diseases. Camphor will often produce results where milder remedies are insufficiently effective, or when a gentle shock is required in order to produce some reaction from a chronically sick body.

Remember that 100-foot high tree, and how long it took to grow and produce its camphor. Camphor oils is not expensive, but it should be used wisely, and only when needed.

Reference: The Art Of Aromatherapy:Robert Tisserand:1979-1987

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