Camphor trees are hardy evergreen trees growing up to 30 m tall. The trees have straight trunks with small leaves, white flowers occuring in clusters and dark red berries. The camphor is formed in white crystalline masses about 25-30 cm, found mainly in the trunks of mature trees but also present in every part of the tree.

Some 250 species of evergreen trees and shrubs belong to this genus, occuring in E and SE Asia, and in Australia. Cinnamomum camphora, C. cassia, and C. zeylanicum provide three different commodities: camphor, cassia bark, and cinnamon, respectively. Camphor (often called camphorated oil) is an aromatic terpene ketone, familiar as mothballs, which is used medicinally and in the manufacture of celluloid. It is best known in the compound camphorated oil, in which camphor is blended with peanut oil. Similar compounds are extracted from Blumea balsamifera (Ngai camphor), and Dryobalanops aromatica (Borneo camphor, See, Borneo camphor). Cassia and cinnamon are usually produced as bark quills, from which powdered cinnamon and essential oil are produced. They are of major importance in food flavoring and are ingredients in numerous medicinal formulas for their warming, stimulant properties. Cinnamomum cassia is one of the oldest spices known, first recorded in China in 2700BCE and in Egypt in 1600BCE. Oil from C. camphora contains safrole (as in Sassafras albidum, See, sassafras), which can be extracted for flavoring but is now banned in many countries because it is potentially carcinogenic. Cinnamomum zeylanicum is a major world spice, which played a significant role in colonial expansion; the Portuguese invaded Ceylon in 1536 to obtain a monopoly of cinnamon; the Dutch began to cultivate it in 1770, and thereafter, the Dutch East India Company dominated the world trade in it from 1796 to 1833. Commercially less important species include: C. burmanii (Batavia cinnamon, Indonesian cassia, korintje), a good cinnamon substitute, also used in incense; C. iners (wild cinnamon), used in SE Asia for curries; C. loureirii (Saigon cassia/cinnamon), a sweet variety used for baking and made into a cordial; C. massoia (massoia bark) from New Guinea, which has a clove-like aroma, used for flavoring and perfumery; C. oliveri (Oliver bark, or black sassafras), an Australian species with a pungent, clove-sassafras flavor; and C. tamala (Indian bay/cassia), tejpat), with aromatic leaves and coarsely flavored bark, used in Italian cuisine and to adulterate cinnamon.

Evergreen tree with pointed, glossy leaves up to 10cm (4in) long, which are red-flushed when young and camphor-scented. Small, pale-yellow-green flowers are produced in clusters 5-7cm (2-3in) across in spring and summer, followed by black fruits, 6-10mm (¼-3/8in) in diameter.

Common Name:
Botanical Name:
Cinnamomum camphora syn. Laurus camphora
Native Location:
China, Japan, Taiwan, tropical SE Asia
Moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Trees tolerate coppicing.
By seed sown when ripe at 13-18°C (55-64°F); by semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Leaves of the C. camphora are picked as required; wood is cut from trees over 50 years old and boiled to extract camphor, which is steam-distilled for oil or use in infusions, liniments, powder, and other medicated preparations. Bark of C. cassia is dried in quills without fermentation for use in infusions, powder and tinctures; branches and leaves are distilled for oil. Unripe fruits of C. cassia are picked in summer and dried as cassia buds. Shoots of coppiced plants of C. zeylanicum are cut every second year during the rainy season, and stripped of leaves for distillation. The bark is left 24 hours to ferment; outer bark is then scraped away to expose inner bark, which is peeled and dried for use, whole or powdered, in infusions and tinctures, or distilled for oil.
12-30m (40-100ft)
5-12m (15-40ft)
Min. 10°C (50°F). Withstands an occasional fall in temperature to 0°C (32°F).
Steam Distillation
Parts Used:
Wood and leaves (zhang nao), from which a crystaline camphor extract is prepared.
Color and Odor:
The essential oil is colorless with a fresh and pungent aroma.
Camphor trees were planted in Taoist and Buddhist temples throughout China. Camphor was also valued in India. It was used in Europe for the late seventeenth century. The therapeutic properties of camphor were studied thoroughly by Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homoeopathic medicine.
Antiseptic, analgesic, respiratory and circulatory tonic, stimulant, nerve sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient.
A bitter, strongly aromatic herb that stimulates the circulatory and nervous systems, reduces inflammation, and relieves pain and spasms. It also benefits the digestion and destroys parasites.
Medicinal Uses:
Externally in liniments, for joint and muscle pain, balms for chilblains, cold sores, chapped lips, and as an inhalant for nasal and bronchial congestion: in traditional Chinese medicine, for skin diseases, wounds, and as a stimulant in unconsciousness; in aromatherapy, for digestive complaints and depression. Internally, in Ayurvedic medicine, for bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, eye complaints, epilepsy, painful menstruation, gout, rheumatism, and insomnia. Excess causes palpitations, vomiting, convulsions, and death; it may be absorbed through the skin, causing systemic poisoning.
  • Respiratory System—Stimulates respiration, clears congested lungs and eases breathing. It also speeds recovery from colds.
  • Muscular System—Helpful with stiff muscles and eases rheumatic aches and pains.
  • Emotions—Camphor has a very balancing effect, dispelling apathy and daydreaming. Lessens strong sexual urges.
The Moon
Magical Properties:
Purification, Physical Energy, Celebacy
Camphor 6 Camphor 6 Camphor 5
Pine 3 Ginger 4 Bergamot 3
Myrrh 3 Coriander 3 Chamomile (M) 2
This herb, especially in the form of camphorated oil, is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Aromatherapy Blends and recipes by Franzesca Watson Copyright © 1995 Thorsons, Harper Parker Publishing Inc. Pp 70-71
Magical Aromatherapy by Scott Cunningham Copyright © 1989 Llewellyn Publications, Inc. pp.65-67
The Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp.169-170