The fragrant camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) and its products,
such as camphor oil, have been coveted since ancient times. Having a rich
history of traditional use, it was particularly used as a fumigant during the
era of the Black Death and considered as a valuable ingredient in both perfume and embalming fluid. Camphor has been
widely used as a fragrance in cosmetics, as a food flavourant, as a common ingredient
in household cleaners, as well as in topically applied analgesics and rubefacients
for the treatment of minor muscle aches and pains. Camphor, traditionally
obtained through the distillation of the wood of the camphor tree, is a major
essential oil component of many aromatic plant species, as it is biosynthetically synthesised; it can
also be chemically synthesised using mainly turpentine as a starting material.
Camphor exhibits a number of biological properties such as insecticidal,
antimicrobial, antiviral, anticoccidial, antinociceptive, anticancer and
antitussive activity, in addition to its use as a skin penetration enhancer.
However, camphor is a very toxic substance and numerous cases of camphor
poisoning have been documented. This review briefly summarises the
uses and synthesis of camphor and discusses the biological properties and
toxicity of this valuable molecule.