Camphor—A Fumigant during the Black Death and a Coveted Fragrant Wood in Ancient Egypt and Babylon—A Review
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, anti-nociceptive, anticancer and antitussive activities, 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.