Camphor was used to fumigate localities affected by the plague, outbreaks of which were common in the ancient world, including Egypt (Chen et al., 2013). In Persia, too, it was viewed as a remedy against the plague.
Atharva Veda makes mention of rubbing camphor on the abdomen as a treatment for urine retention. The treatment was accompanied by chants and mantras.
In Ayurveda, camphor mixed with oil is used to gain relief from inflammation caused by arthritis, sprains, rheumatism, and muscular pains. The oil acts on the sensory nerves of the peripheral nervous system and subdues the inflammation. A mix of camphor, Eucalyptus, and other oils are used for a synergistic effect.
Camphor has a dual hot-and-cold action. When first applied, the oil numbs the muscles and emanates a feeling of coolness. Slowly, this cooling is replaced by warmth as the blood flow to the affected region increases, reducing the stress and leading to reduced inflammation.
There is not enough evidence to support its use in treating toenail fungus, hemorrhoids, warts, etc., although it is prescribed for these ailments in Ayurveda. Other Ayurvedic applications include use in cardiac stimulation, as a remedy for hysteria, and to treat diarrhea.
Overdose can lead to convulsions and vomiting, especially in pregnant women. People suffering from epilepsy and asthma were advised against the use of camphor. Camphor oil is no longer used in aromatherapy as it is suspected to be a convulsant and neurotoxin.
Camphor is used to decongest the chest, as an expectorant and a febrifuge. A number of camphor-based decongestants are available in the market, like the popular Vicks VapoRub™.
Camphor’s anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties make it a popular remedy for cold, flu, and bronchitis. A study showed that the compound named cinnamaldehyde present in camphor helps retard the progression of adenovirus (the common cold virus responsible for upper respiratory tract ailments) (Liu et al., 2009).
Camphor should not be directly applied to broken skin as it enters the body rapidly and is poisonous in high concentrations. Camphor is a very toxic substance and numerous cases of camphor poisoning (Chen et al., 2013) have been documented.
The anti-fungal properties of the essential oil were validated in a study. (Pragadheesh et al., 2013). The anti-depressant properties that have traditionally been attributed to camphor oil were studied and validated through experiments on rats (Rabadia et al., 2013). Camphor oil was observed to reduce human sperm mobility, leading to the claim that the oil has contraceptive properties (Mansee et al., 2010).