Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora), a large evergreen tree found in Asia (particularly in Borneo and Taiwan, hence its alternate name). It also occurs in some other related trees in the laurel family, notably Ocotea usambarensis. It can also be synthetically produced from oil of turpentine. It is used for its scent, as an ingredient in cooking (mainly in India), as an embalming fluid, in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. A major source of camphor in Asia is camphor basil.
In the 9th century, the Arab chemist, Al-Kindi (known as Alkindus in Europe), provided the earliest recipe for the production of camphor in his Kitab Kimiya' al-'Itr (Book of the Chemistry of Perfume).
Already in the 19th century, it was known that with nitric acid, camphor could be oxidized into camphoric acid. Haller and Blanc published a semisynthesis of camphor from camphoric acid, which, although demonstrating its structure, would not prove it. The first complete total synthesis for camphoric acid was published by Gustaf Komppa in 1903. Its starting materials were diethyl oxalate and 3,3-dimethylpentanoic acid, which reacted by Claisen condensation to give diketocamphoric acid. Methylation with methyl iodide and a complicated reduction procedure produced camphoric acid. William Perkin published another synthesis a short time later. Previously, some organic compounds (such as urea) had been synthesized in the laboratory as a proof of concept, but camphor was a scarce natural product with a worldwide demand. Komppa realized this and began industrial production of camphor in Tainionkoski, Finland, in 1907.
Other substances deriving from trees are sometimes wrongly sold as camphor.
It is also used in medicine. Camphor is readily absorbed through the skin and produces a feeling of cooling similar to that of menthol and acts as slight local anesthetic and antimicrobial substance. There are anti-itch gel and cooling gels with camphor as the active ingredient. Camphor is an active ingredient (along with menthol) in vapor-steam products, such as Vicks VapoRub, and it is effective as a cough suppressant. It may also be administered orally in small quantities (50 mg) for minor heart symptoms and fatigue.
It is also believed that camphor will deter snakes and other reptiles due to its strong odor. Similarly, camphor is believed to be toxic to insects and is thus sometimes used as a repellent.
Camphor is widely used in Hindu religious ceremonies. Hindus worship by lighting a holy flame by burning camphor and forms the most important part of most religious ceremonies. Camphor is used in the Mahashivratri celebrations of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction of (re)creation. As a natural pitch substance it burns cool without leaving an ash residue, which symbolizes consciousness. Of late, most Temples in Dravidian land have stopped lighting camphor in the Main Sanctum Sanctorium due to heavy deposits of carbon, however, open areas do use camphor.
It is also found in clarifying masks used for skin.
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