Camphor: An Athletes Best Friend – Nicole Marsh

I have been an athlete for most of my life which means that I have dealt with all of the aches and pains that comes with a hard workout. I was always participating in some sort of sport, and have been on teams for soccer, basketball, softball, lacrosse, swim, and track and field.  When I was younger, bouncing back from these tougher practices was much easier, but as time has worn on it has become much more difficult. However, as an athlete, I have to find a way to play through the pain and continue to perform to the best of my ability. To do this I have turned to certain medications such as Advil, Alieve, Icy Hot, and Tiger Balm. Both Icy Hot (the advanced relief version) and Tiger Balm have the active ingredient of camphor that comes from the Camphor Tree.

The scientific name of the Camphor tree is Cinnamomum camphora. It is in the Lauraceae family. It is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan and is a large evergreen tree that grows up to 20 to 30 meter tall. It has a wide spreading canopy and a thick, short trunk that has a circumference of up to 5 meters [1]. The leaves of the Camphor Tree have a glossy, waxy appearance and it produces a black, berry-like fruit. The Camphor tree is a storm resistant tree that is hard to burn and there are very little diseases that affect the tree or any predators for it as well. Birds will eat the berries off of the Camphor tree and then this will cause a wide distribution of the seeds, causing the species to be well distributed. The berries will also ripen and then drop from the tree to continue the spread of the species. Both of these ways cause the tree to become widely distributed and cause the species to spread fast. Since the Camphor tree is widely distributed and there are very few disease and predators that affect it, it is considered an invasive species [2].

The oldest recorded Camphor Tree is estimated to be about 1000 years old and is located in Japan. With the species dating back that far, it has been used in different ways at different times. In ancient China the main use of the Camphor Tree was for lumber as they did not know how to extract the oils that are present. Eventually Japan learned that it could extract the oils through steam distillation of the leaves and then the species started to be used for medical purposes as well [1]. The Camphor Tree has six different chemical variants that all have different purposes. These chemical variants include camphor, Linalool, 1,8-cineole, nerolidol, safrole, and borneol [2].



The first and most common chemical variant that comes from the Camphor Tree is camphor, which is a white crystalline ketone. Camphor has many uses which include an insect repellent (since it is toxic to insects), an ingredient for fireworks and explosive munitions, and as pain reducer when applied topically (as in the case of Icy Hot and Tiger Balm). In large does Camphor is toxic to humans [3].



Another chemical variant that is found in the Camphor Tree is linalool which is a naturally occurring terpene alcohol. The uses of linalool include reducing inflammation, reducing seizures and convulsions, helps promote sleep, and helps relieve pain. Linalool is also used as a chemical intermediate and has been used in 60-80% of perfumed hygiene products and cleaning agents [4].

1,8- cineole or eucalyptol

1,8- cineole is also known as Eucalyptol which is a cyclic ether and a monoterpenoid that is one of the chemical variants that is present in the Camphor Tree. Some of the uses of eucalyptol include flavoring and Fragrance (provides a pleasant spicy aroma and taste), remedial benefits such as in cough suppressants and mouthwashes, used in treatments of arthritis and muscular aches and pains, and used as an insecticide and a repellent [5].


Another Chemical variant in the Camphor tree is nerolidol which is a naturally occurring terpene that is found in essential oils. There is not a very well-known chemical as research is still being done to examine its uses, but it is found in strong aromatics including jasmine, tea tree, and lemongrass. Nerolidol is being investigated currently for its medical benefits which may include as an antiparastic, antifungal, and antimicrobial [6].

Safrole is another chemical variant that is found in the Camphor tree and it is an organic compound that is found in sassafras oils. Safrole used to be used to flavor products such as root beer but it is no longer used for that purpose. The reason for this is because it was discovered that safrole is a carcinogenic, meaning that it can cause cancer. Safrole is also a drug precursor, meaning that it can be used to make illegal drugs, and because of this the DEA watches it closely [7].


On more active compound that can be found in the Camphor Tree is borneol,which is a naturally occurring terpene alcohol. Borneol is a component of many essential oils and uses of it include a traditional Chinese medicine and as a natural insect repellent [8].



[1] “Camphor Tree Uses, Benefits and Side Effects.” The Herbal Resource, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[2] “Cinnamomum camphora Plant Profile.” Cinnamomum camphora, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[3] “Myriad Uses of Icy Cool Camphor.” Read and Digest, 23 Aug. 2013, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[4] “Linalool.” Ayurvedic Oils, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[5] “1,8-Cineole.” Ayurvedic Oils, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[6] Article, Sponsored. “Cannabis Terpenes: The Benefits of Humulene, Caryophyllene, and Trans-Nerolidol.” Leafly, 15 Aug. 2017, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[7] Posted by Molecule of the Day on June 8, 2007. “Safrole (Root beer or amphetamines?).” Molecule of the Day, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
[8] Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon. “RELATIONSHIP OF BORNEOL, ARTEMISIA, AND MOXA.” Borneol, Artemesia and Moxa, Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.
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