Camphor

Chinese: 樟脑

Pinyin: Zhānɡ Nǎo

Parts used: The white crystalline substance obtained from the tree

TCM category: Herbs that open the OrificesHerbs for external application

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: Heart

Scientific name: Cinnamomum camphora

Use of camphor (Zhānɡ Nǎo) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Camphor is obtained through water distillation of wood and twigs of the camphor tree

Dosage: 0.05 - 0.15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Moves the Blood and reduces inflammation. Opens the Orifices and awakens the spirit. Dispels Wind-Damp and kills parasites.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which camphor may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Traumatic swelling Summer Heat Itching Sores Intestinal parasites

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by pregnant women nor should it be used by those who are weak with Qi Deficiency or those with insomnia. This herb should be used with caution when taken internally.

Common TCM formulas in which camphor are used*:

  • For sudden loss of consciousness combine camphor with borneol.

Key TCM concepts behind camphor's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), camphor are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that open the Orifices' category. The functions of these herbs are much more platonic than the name implies. They're used to help treat conditions associated with central nervous system collapse, including strokes and coma.

Furthermore camphor are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that camphor tend to help people who have too much "cold" in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much cold in their body are said to either have a Yin excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition camphor can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Camphor also taste Pungent. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Pungent ingredients like camphor tend to promote the circulations of Qi and body fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such camphor are thought to target the Heart. In addition to regulating blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the "spirit" which basically refers to someone's vitality.

Research on camphor

Camphor exhibits a number of biological properties such as insecticidal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anticoccidial, anti-nociceptive, anticancer and antitussive activities, in addition to its use as a skin penetration enhancer.1

Sources:

1. Chen W, Vermaak I, Viljoen A. Camphor—A Fumigant during the Black Death and a Coveted Fragrant Wood in Ancient Egypt and Babylon—A Review. Molecules. 2013; 18(5):5434-5454.