What is a Camphor Laurel?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Camphor may be used to suppress a cough.
Camphor may be used to suppress a cough.

Camphor laurel, or Cinnamomum camphora, is a large tree that can grow up to 98 feet (30 m) tall. It belongs to the genus Cinnamomum and the family Lauraceae. Camphor trees are evergreens, which is a type of tree that has leaves throughout the year, even during winter. The substance called natural camphor, which is commonly used in liniments and aromatherapy oils, comes from the camphor tree.

Camphor laurel is often used in aromatherapy.
Camphor laurel is often used in aromatherapy.

This tree has glossy leaves that are pointed with wavy edges, which start out red but turn green when the tree matures. These leaves give off an aromatic camphor smell when they are crushed. Many clumps of small white flowers sprout from the tree from spring to summer. Its fruits are 0.75 inch (20 mm) round and resemble blackberries when they are ripe.

These trees have been cultivated for centuries in Japan, China, and Taiwan. They were brought to Australia and the United States in the 19th century, but they were declared a noxious weed in New South Wales and Queensland because they compete with important vegetation such as eucalyptus trees. Due to its large spreading roots, it can also damage urban drainage and sewage systems and destroy river banks. The high level of carbon in its leaves hurts water quality and pollutes freshwater fish grounds. As of 2010, there are many ongoing programs to control the proliferation of the camphor laurel in places where it has been classified as an obnoxious weed.

Camphor laurel trees propagate through seeds that attract birds. These seeds are passed whole through the digestive system of the birds and germinate rapidly. The leaves’ camphor content prevents successful germination of other plants surrounding it. They grow well in full sun or partial shade and are tolerant of most types of soil and drought.

Oil can be extracted from the camphor laurel leaves, which are typically harvested every three to four months. This oil is then distilled to form camphor crystals. The typical method of extracting camphor is the steam distillation of 80-year old camphor laurel roots, trunks, and branches. This means cutting down the whole tree to get camphor.

In traditional medicine, camphor was used for all sorts of respiratory ailments, epilepsy, and heart problems. As of 2010, the approved use of crystal camphor is strictly limited to muscle relaxants and analgesic liniments for skin irritations. It works by numbing the peripheral sensory nerve and as a counter-irritant to tame skin inflammations. White camphor oil, with the toxins removed, is used for aromatherapy, candies, and cough syrups. This oil acts as a cough suppressant and coats the upper respiratory tracts to prevent cough reflux.

Cutting down a camphor laurel tree in ancient China was once punishable by death, as it was reserved for special ceremonial items. Eventually, camphorwood chests became a highly sought-after item because the wood repels moth and wood boring insects. Camphorwood today, when available, can be used as wall paneling. It is usually difficult to find camphorwood in regular lumber shops, but it can often be sourced from collectors of exotic wood. Camphor is also used in preparing incense.

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Discussion Comments


@ZipLine-- Some people love the smell of camphor and some people hate it. So it's difficult to answer this question. If you visit an essential oil shop and ask to smell camphor oil, that's a good way to know if you will like it. I don't mind the scent.


I was reading about camphor recently because my Indian friend mentioned that it's used a lot in India. Aside from camphor laurel being used in homeopathy, apparently it's also very important in Hinduism rituals.

I've read that that there are camphor tablets that are burned during religious rituals and ceremonies in India. It's sort of like a candle but not quite. Since camphor tablets burn through entirely without leaving residue, it's used religiously to signify spiritual cleansing. The disappearing camphor tablet is thought to be the ego that disappears with religious devotion and practice.

I've never seen or used a camphor tablet or candle before. But I find the concept very interesting. Does anyone know what a camphor candle smells like? Does it smell good?


I use a skin salve with camphor oil whenever I have aches or pains from an injury like a strain. I think it works well. It seems to have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. I like to apply it and rub it well into skin with a light massage. It works every time and I plan on using it indefinitely.

It's actually a challenge to find products with camphor oil. It's not as popular as other oils like eucalyptus or mint which have similar benefits. So when I find a product I like, I stock up just in case.

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    • Camphor may be used to suppress a cough.
      Camphor may be used to suppress a cough.
    • Camphor laurel is often used in aromatherapy.
      Camphor laurel is often used in aromatherapy.