Although many people have no idea of what camphorated oil is, they have heard of it from an old song. In this song, sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," John Brown's baby had a cold upon its chest, so he rubbed it with camphorated oil. As the song suggests, camphorated oil is good for colds and flu. But what is it?
The first use of camphor is recorded in China, where oil of camphor is still much prized for it's medicinal uses today. Marco Polo first wrote his observations on the use of camphor oil when describing his stay in China during the 13th century. Oil of camphor is obtained by cutting down a 50-year-old camphor tree and then distilling the wood. One tree can produce up to three tons of camphor. Its leaves may also be used as an herb.
Camphor oil is known for it's strong, pungent aroma. Because large doses can be toxic, it is tightly regulated in the United States. In medicine compounds, camphor is only allowed to account for 11 percent of the medicine's total makeup.
Camphor has anti-inflammatory properties. Though it is pungent, it is not used as a decongestant. Instead the smell stimulates the cold receptors in the mucus membranes as well as acting as a spasmolytic in bronchial tubes. When taken internally, camphor is known to aid digestion and kill parasites. It is also believed to improve circulation and ease joint pain.
When made into a liniment, camphor can be used to treat sprains, joint pain and muscle soreness. It can also be used as a balm on cold sores and chapped lips.
Camphor's toxic properties may be absorbed through the skin as well as ingested. For this reason, caution must be used when treating camphorated oil as an essential oil. Camphor should never be used as a massage oil. However it may be used for vapor therapy to ease respiratory problems.