Edible Camphor

Edible Camphor

Latin name: Cinnamomum camphora
Uses: spice, perfume, Ayurvedic and Unani medicine

Aromatic, edible camphor has a floating reputation. The Chinese describe these intensely fragrant white crystals, distilled from the bark of the camphor tree, as dragon’s brain perfume. In India, it’s used in Hindu rituals to light a sacred fire and added to certain foods to impart flavor. In pre-Renaissance Europe, it was added to Andalucian meat dishes for flavor and aroma. When buying, check for Cinnamomum camphora as the source of camphor.

Why is edible camphor healthy?

The 14th century Ayurvedic lexicon, Raja Niganthu lists over 14 types of Indian camphor and their medicinal properties. Herbalists and Ayurvedic practitioners recommend natural camphor to alleviate colds, coughs, digestive problems, aid blood circulation, and as a coolant with a healing effect on the skin.

What does edible camphor taste like?

Think menthol, but woodsier. When added to puddings as a spice, camphor laces the tongue with a tingle, and tickles the nose with its fragrance.

Where does edible camphor grow?

It is native to Vietnam, parts of China, Taiwan, Korea and is popular across parts of Southeast Asia as an edible spice, medicine, and aromatic substance, but is considered a noxious weed in parts of Australia and South Africa. In the 19th century camphor woods were cultivated in Florida. Today, camphor trees are grown in China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Haiti, and Puerto Rico.

How do I prepare edible camphor and what do I pair it with?

Add only a smidgen of edible camphor to food as you cook or warm it. Powdered edible camphor is widely used in southern India to flavor dishes, particularly milk puddings like sweet pongal and payasam or laddus. You can also add it to pickles like they do in the state of Karnataka. Add a little camphor to a glass of warm milk at bedtime, as it is believed to aid sleep. And add it to drinking water at home for its cooling properties, or to calm inflammation.

Surprising fact:

In the past, royals and aristocrats in south India added a morsel of edible camphor to their quid of paan to freshen their breath after meals. And further east in China, edible camphor was used during the Tang dynasty to flavor ice creams.