Camphor Tree: Cinnamon’s Smelly Cousin

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Greens/Pot Herb, Medicinal, Miscellaneous, Plants, Spice/Seasoning, Trees/Shrubs

Camphor barely makes it into the edible category

 Campy Camphor: Not Just For Grandma

One would never guess Camphor trees are not native to Florida, or the South. One also probably wouldn’t guess they are closely related to the cinnamon tree, either.

The Camphor has a split personality:  Folks either like a lot, or dislike it a lot. There’s little middle ground. First it grows huge, and fast. This upsets controlled garden folks who don’t like their planned pallet colored by a rambunctious upstart. Then there are the berries and hundreds of seedlings every year. Whether pal or pest is a matter of attitude and perspective.

Young pink leaves can be cooked as greens

The young leaves and shoots of the Camphor can be boiled and eaten. The roots of the young shoots are used to make a tea. Older leaves can be used as a spice. But go easy, they are toxic in large doses. All parts contains chemicals that can stimulate the central nervous system. This can affect respiration or cause convulsions. In Chinese medicine, pregnant women are not allowed Camphor in any form at anytime.

While Camphor is not a common spice flavor today it has been used a lot in the past and was popular in Europe until the Renaissance. Camphor wood, or leaves and twigs, is used to make a popular Szechuan smoked duck. Camphor oil has been used in commercial baked goods, beverages, and candy. It has also been added to milk puddings and confections. In fact, it is an ingredient in Swedish Bitters. Why use camphor oil, or a fractal of it? It  contains safole, the essential oil in sassafras which used to be a main flavor in root beer.

Refined camphor

If you are not consuming parts of the Camphor tree it makes excellent wood for clothes bureaus, naturally driving away insects. Camphor is a native to Japan, China, Taiwan and northern Vietnam and was introduced into Florida in 1875, which is rather amazing consider how large some of the specimens are today, some 139 years later.  There were actually Camphor tree plantations. Now the state calls the Camphor an “exotic pest plant” yet it is still sold in nurseries and other stores. It is naturalized in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina.  In Australia, where it was introduced in 1822, it is officially a noxious weed.  It also grows in the Caribbean. Camphor is, as mentioned earlier, a source of safrole, a banned oil that used to come from the sassafras tree. And of course the tree is the source of Camphor oil, which is one of the ingredients in Tiger Balm.

The scientific name is Cinnamomum camphora. Cinnamomum (sin-uh-MOE-mum) comes from the Greek word ‘kinnamomon’ meaning spice. Camphora (kam-FOR-uh in Latin)  is  also Greek and comes from the ancient word for the tree, kamfora (except the Greek pronunciation puts the accents the end, kam-for-AH.)

The wood itself, which is steamed to collected the oil, has red and yellow striping making it a favorite of wood workers.  The tree is also very resistant to hurricanes and is the official tree of Hiroshima, Japan.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Leaves, alternate, evergreen, simple, oval to elliptical, 5 inches, usually less, edges can be somewhat wavy, dark glossy green above, pale below, with three prominent veins, camphor odor when crushed. Leaves are pink when young. Fruit appear in autumn, dark blue to black, round, fleshy drupes; usually produced in excess. Not edible. The bark is reddish brown and variable. The trunk can reach six feet through, and the tree can grow to 70 feet tall.

TIME OF YEAR: Young leaves anytime, shoots when sprouting, usually spring but not exclusively.

ENVIRONMENT: Open spaces with plenty of sun and adequate. Does not like its feet wet.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves and shoots boiled. Shoots used to make tea, older leaves as a spice.  Use in moderation. Twigs, leaves and wood can be used to add a smokey flavor to food.


Camphor oil has a strong fragrance, a bitter flavor, and feels cool on the skin. It can irritating and numbing. It has been used to treat everything from parasites  to toothaches. Research shows Camphor is antiseptic and can be used for treating diarrhea, inflammation, itching, and some nervous conditions.


If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob October 2, 2016 at 17:56

I had a large camphor tree that I cut down last year and was going to burn the wood in my fireplace. Is that a good idea? just wondering if the smoke would create any health problems?


Green Deane October 2, 2016 at 18:46

I’ve burned it in my fireplace but I would keep the draft open.


Karina September 15, 2016 at 19:25

What part of the tree can use to make a tea?


Green Deane September 15, 2016 at 19:55

It’s in the article. Part of the seedling root.


Derek June 25, 2016 at 12:26

I have tons of camphor trees here in ocala national forest.. Love the scent! I collect bunches of mature leaves, stuff them into a ninja blender, blend them to fine powder which tends to be moist from the oils and water content. Next empty into crock pot, add virgin olive oil… 1 part chopped leaves from ninja/ to / 3/4 part virgin olive oil.. Heat crock for 20 min with lid slighty cracked open to allow water evap. Put into clean gass jar, let cool. Put on lid. I use it on mosquito bites and makes them disapear fast. I rub a ton on my skin before working in the garden or going into the forest, and no insect dare come near till it wears off by contact or sweat, rain ect. Then i re- apply. Last about 4 hours genrally and cuts iching fast. I heard of it being used in vedic culture in India. D-


Priscilla February 21, 2016 at 20:43

My camphor tree is abt 3 years old and it has never had the berries on it. Could the birds be eating them immediately to where I never see any.


Green Deane February 25, 2016 at 15:44

It will fruit and then become a pest.


Gloria March 3, 2016 at 18:34

As in most trees that are fruit laden, they should be politated to give off berries. Or maybe it is a male tree and if so it would need a female tree to get it to give off berries.


ForageR December 20, 2015 at 19:13

Does anyone have any idea how to make an ointment or oil from this plant?


Gloria March 3, 2016 at 18:31

Pick the red leaves and boil them in water. Drain water into another pan and add virgin olive oil to the water and a few scraps of the leaves and bring back to a boil then let cool. Use where you need it and don’t get near your eyes. Wash hands after use. Great when you have a cold you can smell it and it will unclog your nose.


CJ December 20, 2015 at 16:08

Hello All Camphor People,

I am looking for some camphor wood or camphor extracts for my home as I am Indian and grew up with natural Camphor …. I live in NJ and obviously don’t have any. Would any of you be willing to send me some… or we could make some arrangements. Please let me know. email : pigeonservice at gmail dot com
THanks, CJ


Lance Savoie January 13, 2016 at 00:36

I have plenty camfor wood I could send you.


George March 23, 2016 at 18:45

In response to you looking for some wood from a Camphor tree, just so happens I just cut one of the big trees down in my yard and all the pungent smell of camphor. I live in Land O Lakes which is north of Tampa Florida don’t know if I can be of any assistance in getting this to you but will try. call me (813)408=2928


Ann December 10, 2015 at 21:48

We inherited a beautifully carved camphor trunk. We’re not too fond of the scent. Can it be masked or lessened by a Killz product?


Green Deane December 11, 2015 at 11:53

On small pieces of wood — such as pipe bowls — boiling reduces odors. But I fear a trunk is too large and as it is carved it could also ruin it.


piplofaro May 18, 2015 at 05:12

i need to buy a camphor tree.. also an african bean tree ,to plant in garden here on nw coast italy. hope someone can help locate them thx plf


Nancy September 19, 2015 at 20:40

Did you find your camphor trees? I have ore than 22o… Contact me here in Tampa to at nConwell @ gmail. God bless you?


Cheri April 25, 2015 at 16:34

We live in Florida, and we have 3 Camphor trees in our yard! We just noticed a red mold growing on all the Camphors. No other trees is mold growing on! Would like to know what it is and if it is harmful to humans. Looking for feedback!


Green Deane April 25, 2015 at 19:52

Red lichen if fairly common here in Florida, we we don’t use the camphor for much.


Sally February 18, 2015 at 16:27

Need information as to growth speed how invasive do roots grow spread or deep


Glenn March 7, 2016 at 12:22

It spreads mostly by the seeds. The roots do not grow deep, and spread moderately. But if you leave any of the root, it will sprout another tree. And if you leave the stump, it will bush out a myriad of shoots in no time.


Diane September 15, 2016 at 11:07

I have a camphor tree in my front yard that is probably 40+ years old. Although it is a beautiful tree, it is very invasive when it gets large. The roots have gone under my paved driveway & invaded the area under my live oak tree. I once had a beautiful field of impatients growing under the live oak, but they have died back. What I discovered under them was a thick camphor root system that is about 1.5 – 2 feet deep!! There was no soil, just a mass of roots. The flowers can’t grow there. The oak tree doesn’t look as healthy as it use to either. I don’t know how to contain the roots or if you can! So be aware!!! I actually dug out the roots in some sections, but a year later they are back!


Amie Warren September 11, 2014 at 18:31

You used to be able to buy small bottles of camphor spirits in the drug stores. It was wonderful for drying up cold sores in a hurry.


KAREN August 6, 2014 at 12:27

TO: Don
RE: 5/18/14 question
DO NOT let your puppies near a camphor tree. Every part of it is toxic to dogs. Especially fruit & flowers.


don hancock May 18, 2014 at 16:56

are camphor leaves safe to sprinkle around my new puppies to get rid of fleas?


Green Deane May 18, 2014 at 17:58

Camphor leaves are not good a repelling insects. Florida Pennyroyal is.


Tony Torre May 8, 2014 at 16:22

I am trying to locate a camphor tree in South Florida from which I could harvest some leaves any leads you could direct me to please?


Shilpa February 28, 2014 at 03:49

Hi i want camphor oil can you please tell me were it will get and tell me the usese of these oil


Green Deane February 28, 2014 at 06:34

You should be able to buy it at you local health food store.


tim hartt February 13, 2014 at 13:33

the wild parrots seem to like the berrys insandiego. will they get sick and will they leave after a while because they do make a mess.


Marie Morris February 10, 2014 at 17:50

I have an unusual request for an herb friend of mine. He wants to find someone who who has a farm that commercially grows this delightful tree. It is, of course, one of my favorite trees which has great potential in LA, FL, and GA. He wants a camphor tree farm that can perhaps distill the natural oil from the leaves. I understand this was probably attempted at some time, but do you know of any current sites that cultivate it? Thanking you in advance for your answer. I continue to enjoy your delightful videos!


Green Deane February 10, 2014 at 20:36

Cultivate it? The state is vigorously trying to get rid of it. I doubt they would let anyone start such a tree farm. More to the point there are so many of the trees one would not need a farm to have leaves to distill. Just make friends with a tree service. The one place where they do grow them intentionally is in China.


Tabitha Offord June 8, 2014 at 00:07

I can get seedlings here in Florida.


bob dagit October 8, 2013 at 18:36

i am told that phytophthora dieback is caused by imported asian camphor trees a century ago in australia and it is causing a plague of root rot dieback in australian endemic species, some rare and threatened. i hope it does not affect florida!


owolabi October 8, 2013 at 10:11

Can the oil extract in products cause abortion if inhaled?


Green Deane October 8, 2013 at 10:40

Such extracts usually have to be consumed in significant amounts. I would consult an herbalist, which I am not.


Leaves September 1, 2013 at 20:10

Hi there, Wendy this tree is a noxious weed here in Australia and the Camphor laurel does very well in all environments around Australia, so if your plant is in a pot just give it some Dynamic lifter & feed it some seaweed liquid fertilizer once every 2 weeks. If the temps are down below 0 degrees celsius bring the Camphor plant inside to protect it from the cold. Other than that this tree should not give you any problems.


Wendy March 15, 2013 at 00:06

I forgot to mention that on the upside, there is plenty of new growth. Since it’s still a bit chilly here, I did cut it back a bit, hoping this might help in stimulating even more growth. If there is a certain type of fertilizer, such as nitrate or similar, please specify exactly what it’s needs are. I want to nurse it back to a healthy life.

Thank you.


Wendy March 14, 2013 at 23:59

I am looking for some help with my Cinnamon Camphor. I live in Irvine CA and have a patio garden, so plants are potted. My Camphor lives out on my recessed balcony which gets plenty of sun. It is dropping leaves, as they turn yellow and get brown spots. When I got it home from the nursery, I repotted it to allow for future root growth, keeping it’s roots in it’s original soil. The pot has 6 half-inch holes in the bottom and I lined with river rocks before replanting and adding additional soil. Unfortunately, there was no “care tag” with my purchase, so I called the nursery to inquire on it’s care. They advised to water twice a week, allowing to drain, and fertilize once a month. I want to save it, as I have always had a green thumb—but this is my first Cinnamon Camphor and I don’t want to lose it. I made the purchase because it has nice sturdy barked branches to hang a hummingbird feeder and wild bird feeder. If there are special care needs for this species, I’d be happy to get your help. Thank you in advance for your advice.
Wendy Vandenbrock


Brown camphor oil is non-toxic October 29, 2012 at 08:33

Before using camphor oil my hair was really becoming dull but as soon as I visited your informative site, it has proved to be a boon for me. Keep doing the great work


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: