The  Camphor Tree

The Camphor Tree

Camphor constituent: essential oils

Parts used: essential oil, waxy crystalline flammable substance

Medicinal actions:

Used in ‘cold creams’ as an anti-aging ingredient. Stimulates the production of collagen and elastin.

Anti-inflammatory – applied to sore, inflamed skin (not on broken skin)

Pain relief for arthritic, or rheumatic pain

Antifungal – can be applied to toenail fungus. (Needs persistence. It can take up to 48 weeks  before positive impact is noticed).

Decongestant and cough suppressant – evaporate in oil diffuser during the night

Antispasmodic – can be used to relieve muscle aches and pains, cramps, sprains

Anti-viral – used to treat infectious fevers such as typhoid, influenza, and pneumonia.

Medicinal Action and Uses—Camphor has a strong, penetrating, fragrant odour, a bitter, pungent taste, and is slightly cold to the touch like menthol leaves; locally it is an irritant, numbs the peripheral sensory nerves, and is slightly antiseptic; it is not readily absorbed by the mucous membrane, but is easily absorbed by the subcutaneous tissue- it combines in the body with glucuronic acid, and in this condition is voided by the urine. Experiments on frogs show a depressant action to the spinal column, no motor disturbance, but a slow increasing paralysis; in mankind it causes convulsions, from the effect it has on the motor tract of the brain; it stimulates the intellectual centres and prevents narcotic drugs taking effect, but in cases of nervous excitement it has a soothing and quieting result. Authorities vary as to its effect on blood pressure; some think it raises it, others take an opposite view; but it has been proved valuable as an excitant in cases of heart failure, whether due to diseases or as a result of infectious fevers, such as typhoid and pneumonia, not only in the latter case as a stimulant to circulation, but as preventing the growth of pneumococci. Camphor is used in medicine internally for its calming influence in hysteria, nervousness and neuralgia, and for serious diarrhoea, and externally as a counter-irritant in rheumatisms, sprains bronchitis, and in inflammatory conditions, and sometimes in conjunction with menthol and phenol for heart failure; “

Mrs. Grieves, A Modern Herbal

Camphor Tree – The Dragon’s Brain

The characteristic scent of Camphor is familiar to anyone who has had a close encounter with VapoRub, but few have ever seen the pure, white crystalline substance from which the scent derives. Still, fewer are aware that this mysterious substance is entirely natural and comes from a tree that is native to southern China, southern Japan, and Taiwan. The Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) is closely related to the Cinnamon Tree, (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), with which it is sometimes confused. However, the unmistakable scent of the leaves immediately reveals its true identity.

In China, Camphor is known as ‘long nao xiang’, ‘the dragon’s brain’, but it is unclear whether the name makes reference to its powerful brain-fog blasting effect, or whether the use of Camphor may originally have been the privilege of the emperor, who is often referred to as the (imperial) ‘dragon’.

Camphor trees can become very old – up to several hundred years, in fact. Such tree veterans are a majestic sight to behold. They can reach up to 40m in height and develop a truly massive base. One tree, recorded in the prefecture of Nagasaki, was recorded to measure a staggering 16 m of girth. Hardly surprising then, that the evergreen tree is seen as an icon of vitality and longevity.

In China, Japan and India Camphor trees are sacred. They are planted for protection near dwellings, temples, and monasteries, and Camphor is burnt as incense in purification rituals or in pujas. Its pure, bright and smokeless flame is seen as a representation of Shiva.

During the 13th century, while traveling through China, Marco Polo reported seeing ‘great forests where the trees are found that give camphor’. At that time, Camphor had already been introduced to Europe, along with other exotic spices such as Cinnamon, Pepper, Cardamom, and Wood-Aloes. But the Camphor tree itself was virtually unknown. The precious substances reached Europe via the Spice Route and first found its way to the spice markets north of the Alps during the 10th century.

However, it took several centuries more, until the latter half of the 17th century, for the first trees to be introduced to Europe. But then they took the eminent Botanical Gardens of Europe by storm: They were planted at the Botanical Gardens of Padua, Leiden, Dresden, and the Chelsea Physic Gardens. Many of them are still standing now. Their import to Europe has had no ill effect on the local environment, but in more favourable climatic conditions, Camphor trees have been known to spread prolifically. In some parts of Australia and the southern United States, they are now considered an invasive pest.

Camphor Tree

In the Orient, Camphor is highly valued and has a long tradition of medicinal and culinary use. It is mentioned in various Arab and Indian cookery books, and in India, it is an ingredient of the Betel quid, a popular chewing stimulant.

In the West Camphor is better known for its medicinal properties. It is valued for its antiseptic and cooling properties and its ability to relieve pain and swelling associated with inflammatory skin conditions, chilblains, burns, and anal fissures. It is also used as a counter-irritant and applied topically to painful arthritic or rheumatic joints.

Added to a steam inhalation Camphor can clear congestion of the lungs, bronchi and nasal passages. In the past, it was used internally as an antiseptic digestive aid. Thanks to Samuel Hahnemann, the ‘father of Homeopathic medicine’ it became a lifesaver during the outbreaks of Asiatic cholera in 1831/32 and 1848/49. Having received first-hand reports from Russian colleagues, he treated victims at frequent intervals with a homeopathic tincture of Camphor – apparently with great success. Even allopathic doctors admitted that it was about the only thing capable of halting the progress of this lethal disease when administered during the early stages.

Camphor is an antidote to Opium and recipes found in ancient Arab manuscripts often combine both substances to alleviate some of Opium’s negative effects. During the Victorian era, camphor became popular among members of the upper classes, particularly in the UK, the US and in Slovakia. It was combined with milk, alcohol or consumed in pill form as a stimulating recreational drug. The effective dose is very small and said to produce a warm, tingling skin sensation, a sense of mental clarity, or ‘a rush of thoughts chasing each other’, sometimes accompanied by euphoria.

However, the bad news is, that larger doses can produce quite unpleasant effects: confusion, giddiness, accelerated heart rate, headaches, and even death. Thus, many countries have regulated Camphor. Today, most commercially available Camphor is synthetically produced and not fit for internal use at all. It is regrettable that a beneficial and medicinally useful substance such as Camphor should be disgraced and forgotten, despite the eons of safe use, just because some people have overindulged in it – to their own detriment.

Caution: Only Camphor that is clearly labeled as edible may be taken internally, and then only in tiny doses. Quantities of more than 2g can be fatal to adults. The lethal dose for children and youths is significantly lower.

During pregnancy and lactation, it is advised to avoid camphor products altogether. Due to its toxicity at a low dose, it should also be kept away from children. Some people have reported contact dermatitis from handling Camphor.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda

Ayurveda – the science of life

There are many healing traditions in India but without a doubt, Ayurveda is one of the oldest, spanning about 5000 years of unbroken practice. In recent times it has even spread into the West.

Often described as a philosophy of life rather than just a system of medicine, the name actually translates as ‘science of life’. But in this case, ‘science’ has a different meaning than we are used to. It is understood as a divinely revealed philosophy that was conceived in a state of meditation.

According to legend, once upon a time, the wisest Brahmans came together to meditate on the subject of health. It was then that Ayurveda was revealed to them in its entirety. It is both, a philosophy and a ‘science’. Its basic premise is that body, mind and spirit form an inseparable entity, which in turn is connected to everything else in the universe.

Well-being is understood as a state of equilibrium, a perfect balance of inner and outer forces, which can be achieved by means of a balanced lifestyle. Its central teaching is ‘moderation in all things, whether physical, mental or spiritual. Imbalance in any sphere of life will eventually impact all aspects of a person’s ‘body-mind’. Thus, a balanced diet is just as important as are happy thoughts and emotions, or a fulfilled love life.

The Elements

But what does ‘balanced’ mean, exactly? Indeed, a term like that can mean completely different things to different people, depending on their temperament.

Like Chinese medicine, Ayurveda also refers to the elements and regards the manifest world as a dynamic interplay of such elemental forces (fire, air, earth, water, and ether) that shape all aspects of the manifest universe.

The elements have little to do with their physical representations, rather it is the essence of fire, water, air, earth and ether that are implied. It is impossible to grasp these concepts scientifically, they must be intuited within their own system of reference and dense network of correspondences.

Every single person is seen as a part of this vibrant and dynamic web of energies. Likewise, all other natural things (including the healing substances that are used to balance an individual’s ‘vibration rate’). In humans, these elemental forces are thought to combine into three basic constitutional types (temperaments), which are referred to as the three ‘doshas’. All doshas are present in all individuals, but one usually dominates. Occasionally, people can have ‘dual-doshic’ constitutions and display characteristics of two doshas in more or less equal parts.

The three doshas are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha:

The three Doshas

Vata

Vata is associated with the elements of air and ether. It represents movement and changeability. Vata energy is cold and dry. An individual with an excess of Vata energy may have a tendency towards nervousness and anxiety. They find it hard to sit still and are always on the move. Their minds are quick and active, but the information is also quickly forgotten. Their skin or hair may be dry and brittle and they may suffer from cold hands and feet. Their body frame tends to be light and skinny.

Pitta

Pitta is associated with the elements of fire and water. It represents heat and assimilation and is associated with the metabolic processes. Its hot nature requires plenty of food to fuel metabolism. Because of this inner fire, they often turn grey or lose their hair early. Pitta is also said to be oily, which may present as greasy hair and oily skin. They often have strong body odors. Their memory and thinking processes tend to be sharp. They tend towards perfectionism and often criticize others, or even themselves. They can be dominating and controlling.

Kapha

Kapha is associated with the elements of water and earth. It represents structure and substance. Kapha is associated with the bones and connective tissues. Its quality is heavy and cool. Thus, Kapha types have a heavy body frame and a tendency towards putting on weight. They move and think slowly and can be lethargic. Their skin may feel cool and clammy. They frequently have a sweet tooth. They may be kind and compassionate, but they may also be overly attached and become jealous.

Everybody is constantly subjected to outside influences that may alter their inherent doshic quality so that its expression turns negative. To maintain a state of well-being the doshas need to be balanced with the aid of herbs, nutrition and appropriate mental or physical exercises (e.g. meditation, yoga).

Nutritional Healing

Much of the teachings of Ayurveda is concerned with nutritional healing. Foods are categorized into three basic types:

  • Sattva – milk and plant products, mild flavors
  • Raja – hot and spicy food, meat
  • Tamas – denatured foods, canned food, fast food, alcohol

Which foods an individual should include in their diet is determined by assessing their doshic constitution. An excess of Vata energy is balanced by including foods that are cooked, oily, heavy and warm, and taste sweet, sour, or salty. Refined sugars and yeast should be avoided. Vegetables of the cabbage and potato family are also not recommended. Raw vegetables are ok, but should be marinated, or served with salad dressing. Making proper time for meals (rather than quickly grabbing something on the go) and keeping to regular meal times is also beneficial.

An excess of Pitta energy is balanced by adhering to a predominantly vegetarian diet consisting of plenty of fruits, veggies, and grains. Overly spicy, or acidic foods should be avoided, as should excessive amounts of salt, oil or alcohol.

An excess of Kapha energy can be balanced by a diet consisting of plenty of light, fresh, raw vegetables and fruit. Sweets, creamy foods, nuts, and heavy, starchy foods should be avoided. Spicy foods are beneficial, as they stimulate the metabolism, but sweet, sour and salty foods should be avoided, as should meat, dairy products, and citrus fruits.

Obviously these are only the most rudimentary guidelines. Anybody, who wants to try an Ayurvedic dietary regime, should consult an Ayurvedic practitioner to get recommendations that are tailor-made for them.

The 5 causes of disease

Ayurveda is much more than nutritional healing. It recognizes that different causes of disease call for different sorts of treatment.

Five causes of ill-health are recognized and treated correspondingly:

Accidents:

External injuries, mechanical injuries that call for surgery (broken bones, etc.)

Inflammation

Infections and internal diseases are mostly treated with herbs and other healing substances.

Afflictions of the soul:

Fear, hatred, indolence, jealousy, etc. are treated therapeutically with music, scent (aromatherapy), color therapy, charms, dance, etc.

Natural causes of suffering:

Old age, hunger, etc. are treated with spiritual measures such as meditation, prayer and spiritual practices with the aim of achieving higher levels of consciousness.

Western medicine struggles to come to grips with the often confusing tangle of correspondences and thus, dismisses it as mumbo jumbo, simply because it does not fit neatly into a western scientific model. Some modern Ayurvedic doctors have even tried to translate their system of reference into Western concepts in order to gain more acceptance or to make it easier for western medicine to understand. But Ayurveda continues to evade scientific investigation by the microscopic method, though evidently, it has successfully been used for thousands of years.

Ever since a wave of fascination with Eastern religions swept across Western subcultures, Ayurveda has gained popularity in the West. Ayurvedic nutritionists, health spas, and massage services can now be found in San Francisco, London, or Paris – one no longer has to travel halfway across the world to benefit from these ancient therapies.

However, the question has been raised as to whether a ‘culturally alien’ medical philosophy can be effective, regardless of where and who it is applied to. This argument is certainly one that warrants a pause for consideration.

In some backwaters of India, for example, hygiene is not always adequate. Yet, the administration of injections and Western-style pills may be regarded with such magical awe that they are prescribed excessively and inappropriately, thus producing detrimental and sometimes dangerous results.

Western medicine, although it claims universal superiority over indigenous healing systems, can easily fail in inadequate conditions. Likewise, Ayurvedic medicine in the hands of insufficiently trained practitioners, is also a concern. Access to all the healing substances used in India, may also be difficult. Lifestyle, living conditions and spiritual outlook are completely different in these two different cultures and trying to transpose one onto another is not necessarily practical, even if it is in vogue. However, one should not assume that it would never work.

In India, Ayurveda has been successfully practiced for thousands of years, and evidently, with very good results. But if we want to really understand it deeply we must study its philosophy within its native cultural, philosophical and religious context. To apply only the physical measures is to miss half of its wisdom.