Camphor Laurel

Latin Name: Cinnamomum camphora

Adult tree at Bundanon, NSW

Adult tree at Bundanon, NSW

Family: Lauraceae.

Known Hazards: The plant is poisonous in large quantities. Large doses can cause respiratory failure in children. See the report below on medicinal uses for more information.

Habitat: Banks of streams, to elevations of 750 metres.

Edibility Rating: 2 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 3 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Evergreen hardy spreading tree to 20 m high. Bark greyish, with numerous fissures. Leaves ovate, 5–11 cm long, 2–5 cm wide, glossy on upper surface; small depressions on the lower surface (domatia) between the bases of the 3 main veins. Fruit spherical, shining black, about 1 cm wide, ripening late autumn.
Flowers: White, in branched heads (panicles), each flower about 3 mm long. Flowers spring and summer.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Diptera.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by aromatic camphor oil smell when leaves are crushed; alternate leaves with leaf stalks 1.5–4 cm long; flowers with 6 petal-like lobes; base of fruit on an expanded part of the fruit stalk (receptacle).

Dispersal: Seed distributed by birds and water

Edible Uses

Young shoots and leaves – cooked. Some caution is suggested because there is a report that the plant is poisonous in large quantities. The old leaves are dried and used as a spice.

Medicinal Uses

Fruits

Fruits

Analgesic; Anthelmintic; Antirheumatic; Antispasmodic; Aromatherapy; Cardiotonic; Carminative; Diaphoretic; Odontalgic; Rubefacient; Sedative; Stimulant; Tonic. Camphor has a long history of herbal use in the Orient with a wide range of uses. It has occasionally been used internally in the treatment of hysteria, but in modern day herbalism it is mainly used as the essential oil and internal use is not advised. The wood and leaves are analgesic, antispasmodic, odontalgic, rubefacient, stimulant. An infusion is used as an inhalant in the treatment of colds and diseases of the lungs. The plant is more commonly used in the form of the essential oil which can be obtained by distillation of the chipped branches, trunk and wood of the tree, or from the leaves and twigs. Wood 24 – 40 years old is normally used. The essential oil is anthelmintic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, carminative, diaphoretic, sedative and tonic. It is used externally in liniments for treating joint and muscle pains, balms for chilblains, chapped lips, cold sores, skin diseases etc and as an inhalant for bronchial congestion. Some caution is advised, excessive use causes vomiting, palpitations, convulsions and death. It is possible that the oil can be absorbed through the skin, causing systemic poisoning. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is ‘Piercing’. It is used in the treatment of digestive complaints and depression.

laurel

Other Uses

Deodorant; Essential; Preservative; Repellent; Wood. The essential oil ‘camphor’ is obtained from the leaves and twigs. It is extracted commercially by passing a current of steam through the wood chips, 30 kilos of wood yielding 1 kilo of camphor. Camphor is used medicinally, in perfumes, as an insecticide and also to make celluloid and as a wood preservative. It can also be put in shoes to cure perspiring feet (probably by acting as a deodorant rather than preventing perspiration). The wood has been burnt as a fumigant during epidemics. Wood – beautifully grained, light brownish, takes a good polish. It is used for making furniture, cabinets, the interior finish of buildings etc.

Notes: Common park and shade tree. Now extensively naturalised and in some localities a major problem of grazing land, disturbed rainforest and urban bushland. Especially invasive of stream banks, reducing light and crowding out other species. In some areas forms a monoculture for the entire length of a watercourse. The plant produces oil which possibly causes death of fish and invertebrates.

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