As a result of continuing bouts of illness, Mike and I have recently tried a new product – Vicks Vapo Steam. This stuff you put in your humidifier during the night and it steams the medicine pleasantly out into your bedroom. It smells like the VapoRub, but I was surprised to find that it’s made up entirely of camphor. I didn’t know at the time what the rub was made of (it turns out that the active ingredients are camphor, eucalyptol, and menthol), but camphor just didn’t sound right. it sounded like something close to castor oil, or some kind of insect repellant.
It turns out that isn’t far from the truth. Camphor is sometimes used as a moth deterrent. It’s also used as a rust preventative and in embalming. And as medicine. Though it isn’t used orally, the stuff is pretty universally happy for you. It’s an antimicrobial. It also works as a local anesthetic, a cough supressant, and occasionally in small doses as a treatment for ‘minor heart symptoms and fatigue’.
The whole use against fatigue may explain why some Chinese students use jin long feng you jin, (Golden Dragon Oil) to stay awake during study – it also contains camphor. Several products contain both menthol and camphor. Along with Vicks Vapo Rub, these are Bengay and Tiger Balm. There’s supposed to be an anti-itch cream that uses camphor as well, but I couldn’t quickly find out which one it was. Just be careful – ingested in quantity, the stuff is highly toxic.