Laurus Camphora. Camphor.

Botanical name: 

Related entry: Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Description: Natural Order, Lauraceae. The Camphora officinarum of Nees; Dryobalanops camphora of others. In the same Family with sassafras, cinnamon, and spice bush. The camphor is an evergreen tree, native of Japan, China, and Southern Asia. Trunk straight, much branched above, living to a great age, and known in a few instances to reach a circumference of thirty and even fifty feet. The leaves are alternate, long petioled, oval, smooth, shining, three-nerved, and of a peculiar yellowish-green color, glandular, fragrant. Flowers hermaphrodite, paniclud, on long axillary peduncles; calyx six-cleft, membranous, white, small, numerous; nine fertile stamens and three sterile.

The leaves yield the peculiar substance known as gum camphor; but all parts of the plant, even to the roots, contain this gum. It is obtained by chipping the leaves, roots, and young branches, placing them with a little water in an iron vessel surmounted by a large earthen cupola, the latter lined with straw, and applying a moderate heat. The camphor sublimes and rises with the steam, and condenses on the straw. The crude gum thus obtained is then mixed with a very small portion of quick lime, put in an iron vessel, and from this resublimed by a gentle heat on a sand-bath–the condensing camphor being received in suitable vessels.

Camphor has a peculiar and penetrating fragrance, and a bitter, pungent taste. It is brittle yet tenacious, with a specific gravity slightly below that of water. It is very volatile, even at ordinary temperatures; may be resublimed without undergoing change; will wholly evaporate if left exposed; and if a large bottle is but partly filled with it, beautiful crystals will slowly collect at the upper part. It melts at 288E F.; will burn with a bright flame and much white smoke. Water, by trituration, will not dissolve more than a thousandth part, yet will receive a distinct camphorous smell and taste. Alcohol of 85 percent will dissolve nearly its own weight, and stronger alcohol still more; but the addition of water will cause the camphor to be precipitated immediately, and it may be obtained thus in a fine powder. With sugar, or magnesia, a larger percentage may be dissolved in water; and the powder is usually obtained by adding a few drops of absolute alcohol to the gum, and then rubbing it in a mortar. It unites with the resins, and bears toward them peculiar relations, as follows: Mixed with guaiacum, asafoetida, or galbanum, a pill-mass consistence is assumed and maintained indefinitely; with benzoin, tobe, ammoniac, or mastic, a pillular consistence which softens slowly on exposure to the air; with myrrh, olibanum, amber, or opoponax, a pulverulent mass that is somewhat grumous; with resin of jalap, or tacamahac, a permanent powder. Mixed with asafoetida, galbanum, sagapenum, or tolu, camphor loses its odor entirely; and with guaiacum, ammoniac, or some others, retains but a faint odor. The profession is indebted for these peculiar facts to M.. Planche, Paris Journal of Pharmacy, vol.xxiv.

Properties and Uses: Great differences of opinion exist as to the action and merits of camphor. It seems gently to excite the nervous system, at the same time soothing it, thus proving antispasmodic. (§243.) For this effect it is given in low forms of hysteria, tenesmus, subsultus tendinum, convulsions, chordee, and the crampings of cholera. It usually quiets nervous agitation and restlessness in cases not dependent upon inflammatory excitement; and through the nervous system arouses the capillary circulation, promotes diaphoresis, and even exalts the general circulation. It is said to be quite effectual in restraining sexual passions, though some assert that it will excite lascivious dreams. It often diminishes mucous secretions; and for this purpose, as well as in the relief it gives to the muscular system and support to the capillary circulation, has come into much repute among Homeopathists for cholera. They use the pure saturated tincture, (as some say, to kill the animalculae which cause the cholera;) and their reported success is astonishing, were it not a well-ascertained fact that physicians of that school many times decline waiting longer on a patient who is about to die, and thence do not include such fatal cases in their reports. This fact was so thoroughly proven by myself and others during the cholera epidemics in Cincinnati in 1866 and 1849, that I am fully justified in making this allusion to the deceptive reports of that school. In 1866, in a few cholera cases, I employed a grain of camphor in powder with rhubarb at intervals of three hours, and with apparently good results. With the people it is almost universally employed as an external appliance in rheumatism, headache, bruises, etc.; and used inwardly in nausea, vomiting, and faintness.

But while this much is said in favor of the article, there are many facts of a widely different character. Given to check sexual impulses, it has been known to cause withering of the testes and impotence. The tincture applied to the breasts to diminish the flow of milk, I have invariably observed to be followed by a withering and atrophy of the breasts, which at subsequent pregnancies almost failed to secrete any milk. And when used in liniments, and applied about the joints, it is my decided impression that it dries the synovial secretion and leaves the joints stiff and weak. In all these cases, it seems to produce a form of paralysis, followed by a greater or less degree of atrophy. Orfila, Alexander, Christison, Wood, and others, report that it will produce ulceration of mucous membranes, giddiness, mental confusion, delirium, coma, strong pressure of blood upon the brain, convulsions, and even death. Several deaths from its accidental use have been recorded. The breath and sweat show it to be absorbed. Such, facts throw so positive a suspicion over the article, that I decidedly question whether it should be used at all.

The dose of the gum may range from half a grain to three grains; and some speak of using five and ten grains. It is usually given in emulsion with sugar and gum arable; but may be combined with other powders, and administered in sugar and water or any mucilage; and repeated at intervals ranging from two to six hours.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Camphor Water. Rub two drachms of camphor with forty drops of absolute alcohol, then with four drachms carbonate of magnesia, and lastly add two pints of water by gradual trituration, and filter. This is a very mild preparation of camphor, used in doses of a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful every hour or two in the wakefulness and restlessness of typhoid and other low fevers, after pains, tenesmus, colic, etc.

II. Tincture. Camphor, one ounce; rectified spirits, eight fluid ounces. This is the most common outward application, but is sometimes used inwardly. Dose, five to twenty drops rubbed up in sugar and then added to water. The sugar prevents the camphor from precipitating on the addition of water.

III. Liniment. Half an ounce of camphor, dissolved in two fluid ounces of olive oil, forms the officinal camphor liniment so much used in sprains, bruises, rheumatism, neuralgia, etc. A compound liniment is made of two and a half ounces of gum camphor, one drachm oil of lavender, seventeen fluid ounces rectified spirit, and three fluid ounces of the stronger ammonia. Allowing camphor to be of use outwardly, the ammonia certainly should be omitted.

IV. Soap Liniment, Opodeldoc. Slice three ounces of common hard soap into a pint of 85 percent alcohol, and dissolve in a close bottle on a mild sand bath. Add an ounce of camphor, and a fluid drachm each of oils of rosemary and origanum. While warm, pour into broad-mouthed bottles. This is an old-fashioned preparation, and probably the best into which camphor enters. It is a soft ointment in consistence, but melts at the temperature of the body. By using white castile soap instead of common soap, and two pints of diluted alcohol, the preparation will be a liquid, known as Camphorated Soap Liniment. Both preparations are used outwardly for the same purposes as the simple liniment.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at