A Home Remedy: Camphor Oil

A multi-purpose natural remedy that works on muscles and lungs

Camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) is sold as an essential oil, often labelled camphor oil, and is used as a home remedy for inflammation, muscle pain, coughs and congestion. Noted for its strong odour, camphor has long had a wide range of uses in traditional medicine. Now modern science is beginning to unravel the secrets of this intriguing substance.

What is camphor oil?

A white, waxy solid material when extracted and purified, camphor is present throughout the wood, roots and leaves of the camphor laurel tree. For hundreds of years, it has been traded and used widely as a culinary spice, perfume and medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine, camphor is used as an analgesic and to treat a wide range of inflammatory conditions, including rheumatism (joint pain) and bronchitis.


How to use camphor oil

To treat the symptoms of a cold, including coughing, try using a few drops of camphor essential oil in a hot water vaporizer. Camphor is also a common ingredient in many over-the-counter cold remedies, as well as balms and liniments for treating skin irritation and muscle pain.

Side effects and risks associated with taking camphor oil

It is important to note that ingesting even small amounts of camphor can cause stomach pain, seizures, liver failure and even death—so it is for external use only. Likewise, camphor oil should never be applied to broken skin. Young children and pregnant women are most at risk if camphor oil is ingested or applied to broken skin—contact your doctor immediately in this event.

Medical research and studies on camphor oil

In 2005, a research team at the Cheju National University, South Korea, discovered that camphor interrupts the production of prostaglandins and other chemical messengers involved in the inflammatory response and the creation of pain sensations.


Also in 2005, a team at the Harvard Medical School discovered that camphor desensitizes a protein called TRPV1, which plays a central role in the body’s sensation of heat. Interrupting that process brings a feeling of cooling and helps to reduce the perception of pain. Breathing in camphor vapour produces that sensation of cooling in the nasal passages; laboratory tests in the 1980s showed that it is this cooling effect that is responsible for the perceived decongest- ant effect of camphor vapour.

A 2011 study showed that, additionally, TRPV1 plays a major role in the mechanism behind coughing, and this reinforces camphor’s use as a cold remedy. The camphor laurel tree, moreover, produces a compound called cineole, a major constituent of eucalyptus oil; cineole has been shown in clinical trials to have decongestant and anti-inflammatory properties.