Camphor Tree: Cinnamon’s Smelly Cousin

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.

HERB BLURB

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.

 

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{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Brown camphor oil is non-toxic October 29, 2012, 8:33 am

    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

  • Wendy March 14, 2013, 11:59 pm

    Hello,
    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

  • Wendy March 15, 2013, 12:06 am

    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.

  • Leaves September 1, 2013, 8:10 pm

    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.

  • owolabi October 8, 2013, 10:11 am

    Can the oil extract in products cause abortion if inhaled?

    • Green Deane October 8, 2013, 10:40 am

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

  • bob dagit October 8, 2013, 6:36 pm

    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! http://dieback.org.au/

  • Marie Morris February 10, 2014, 5:50 pm

    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!
    Marie

    • Green Deane February 10, 2014, 8:36 pm

      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, 12:07 am

      I can get seedlings here in Florida.

  • tim hartt February 13, 2014, 1:33 pm

    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.

  • Shilpa February 28, 2014, 3:49 am

    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, 6:34 am

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

  • Tony Torre May 8, 2014, 4:22 pm

    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?

  • don hancock May 18, 2014, 4:56 pm

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

    • Green Deane May 18, 2014, 5:58 pm

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

  • KAREN August 6, 2014, 12:27 pm

    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.

  • Amie Warren September 11, 2014, 6:31 pm

    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.

  • Sally February 18, 2015, 4:27 pm

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

    • Glenn March 7, 2016, 12:22 pm

      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, 11:07 am

      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!

  • Cheri April 25, 2015, 4:34 pm

    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, 7:52 pm

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

  • piplofaro May 18, 2015, 5:12 am

    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, 8:40 pm

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

  • Ann December 10, 2015, 9:48 pm

    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, 11:53 am

      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.

    • Musky December 30, 2016, 2:30 pm

      Coating the chest with a few coats of urethane should help.

  • CJ December 20, 2015, 4:08 pm

    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, 12:36 am

      I have plenty camfor wood I could send you.

    • George March 23, 2016, 6:45 pm

      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

      • Denny Ryder March 15, 2017, 4:58 pm

        Do you still have any of the wood from your camphor tree available? I turn wood on the lathe and am looking for some camphor wood to turn. Send me an email if you still have some. I am in Clearwater and will drive to your place to pick it up..Thanks, Denny

        • Donna Cohn March 28, 2017, 8:43 am

          I live in Clearwater. I have a large Camphor tree that I will be trimming in a few months.

        • Danyell Chavez May 9, 2017, 12:55 pm

          My woods are filled and I want it all gone its not good for my goats come get it all.

  • ForageR December 20, 2015, 7:13 pm

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

    • Gloria March 3, 2016, 6:31 pm

      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.

  • Priscilla February 21, 2016, 8:43 pm

    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, 3:44 pm

      It will fruit and then become a pest.

    • Gloria March 3, 2016, 6:34 pm

      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.

  • Derek June 25, 2016, 12:26 pm

    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-

  • Karina September 15, 2016, 7:25 pm

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

    • Green Deane September 15, 2016, 7:55 pm

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

  • Bob October 2, 2016, 5:56 pm

    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, 6:46 pm

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

    • Abhay India February 17, 2017, 12:56 pm

      Don’t worry it’s safe and healthy to enhal it’s smoke.

  • khan March 16, 2017, 10:04 am

    I am looking pink camphor where can i buy it.

  • Cathy March 30, 2017, 10:41 pm

    Is it dangerous for puppies to eat the camphor berries? We have 8 week old labs and we have a camphor tree in the back yard that drops berries. Not sure if they are toxic to them

  • venkat June 14, 2017, 2:19 am

    Hi,
    i want camphor process from cinnamon leaves.(how to make camphor)in the production scale.

    • RAJU August 6, 2017, 12:43 am

      I am also looking for same

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