Nature: acrid, bitter, slightly cold
Enters: Heart, Spleen, Lung
Actions: Clears heat; relieves pain; dissipates nodules and stagnant fire; alleviates itching; aromatically opens the orifices, revives the spirit.
• Used topically (especially for heat) for eye, throat, skin, and mouth problems: toothache, sore throat, pain and swelling of the throat, mouth ulcers, carbuncles, eczema (with Qing dai, Shi gao, sesame oil), sores, scabies, neuralgia, photophobia, excessive tearing. Commonly used topically to regenerate flesh.
• Loss of consciousness and convulsions due to various causes, primarily heat and toxicity.
• Mildly stimulates the peripheral sensory nerves.
• Has a stimulatory effect on the higher centers of the brain.
• Similar in action to She xiang, but weaker.
• Never cook or expose to heat.
• Natural borneol is Mei pian. It is safe, most effective, but difficult to procure. Most borneol is synthetic and should probably not be taken internally, except perhaps in very small doses.
Hsu: Antibacterial, antifungal; stimulates CNS.
SD: The Chinese traditionally obtained their borneol (as an isolate) mainly from Dryobalanops aromatica and from Blumea balsamifera. The latter is used as the herb Ainaxiang (fragrant herb that looks like artemisia), which is rich in borneol and also contains limonene, camphor, and other terpenoid compounds. The extracted borneol (longnaoxiang; fragrant dragon’s brain; also known as bingpian [ice slice] referring to the appearance of the finished product) is considered to be suitable for abdominal and chest pains, intestinal parasites, phlegm congestion, and fevers. Blumea is in the same plant family (Labiatae) as capillaris, chrysanthemum, and saussurea, which also contain important terpenes.
Borneol and bornyl acetate are ingredients in the following herbal materials: cardamon, magnolia, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, liquidambar, lindera, camphor oil. These herbs are all used in the treatment of pain syndromes.
Three forms of borneol were mentioned in the Bencao Gangmu: aifen (powdery borneol), the crude product aipian (the refined substance, now known as bingpian), and aiyu, a by-product of distillation. The material was obtained from Blumea grown in the southern part of China, primarily Hainan Island (near Canton), or from imported material (from Borneo in Indonesia) derived from Dryobalanops. Borneol was originally used as a carminative to reduce fevers and alleviate digestive distress. It was also said to inhibit worms. Another name given to borneol was longnaoxiang (dragon camphor fragrance), referring to its alchemical applications (the term “nao” also means brain).
Today borneol is classified as an agent for opening blocked orifices, and is described as pungent, bitter, and slightly cold. It is indicated for severe obstruction of the orifices (that may cause coma or convulsive diseases), for heat syndromes, and for pain. Although not often mentioned as useful for this purpose, borneol is a common addition to treatments for lung diseases in modern clinical practice. It is also applied topically (usually with other substances) for a wide range of conditions, mainly for swelling in the throat, mouth sores, ear infections, cervical erosion, psoriasis, boils, pain, and eye diseases.
Because the resin is strongly aromatic and, partly, because of its historically high price (which has been reduced in recent years, in part due to the availability of the synthetic version), the recommended dosage is quite small. Many herb guides list the internal dosage as 30 to 100 mg, taken in powders or pills (if added to a decoction, it will all evaporate). The Pharmacopeia of the PRC indicates 150 to 300 mg per day. It appears that Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica by Bensky and Gamble has an error in reporting of dosages, indicating 300 to 900 mg per day, a higher recommendation than virtually all other sources.
TOPICAL APPLICATIONS OF BORNEOL
Borneol is used in greater frequency for topical applications than for internal use. Those applications are numerous, but especially apply to injuries, burns, rheumatic pains, hemorrhoids, skin diseases, and ulcerations of the mouth, ear, eye, and nose. Borneol (or camphor) is almost always used in complex formulas, and typically comprises 1.6 to 8.5 percent of the total prescription. Because topical preparations are often difficult to make in convenient form on the spot, they are frequently used as patent remedies.
In the English-Chinese Encyclopedia of Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine, vol. 4, a recipe for treating purulent otitis media is:
borneol 20% , dragon bone 33%, alum 20%, kaempheria (camphor root) 27% , one pig gallbladder. The powdered materials are applied in the ear once per day. Kaempheria (shannai) is a relative of ginger that contains borneol and camphor. Traditionally, kaempheria is used topically for toothache and internally for warming the spleen and stomach to treat cold pain in the abdomen, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The Manual of Dermatology in Chinese Medicine provides the following examples of special preparations with borneol for application to the skin:
Luhui Binz Zhu Weifu Ji: 1 fresh aloe-vera leaf, 0.3-1.0 grams borneol, a pinch of pearl powder: mash the ingredients together and apply 1-2 times daily for herpes zoster sores.
Bing Shi Dan: 30g calcined gypsum powder, 0.6g borneol powder: combine and apply to herpes zoster pustules.
Di Yu Er Cang Hu Gao: 18g each of phellodendron, red atractylodes (cangzhu), and xanthium, 36g sanguisorba, 3g menthol, and 1.5g each of calomel and borneol: grind to powder, combine with petroleum jelly, and apply to skin 2-3 times daily for atopic dermatitis.
Dong Chuang You: combine 5g borneol and 15g camphor with 100g dried chili peppers: grind the borneol and camphor into powder and add to a hot water extract of chili pepper (steep peppers in hot water for 10 hours in closed container, string and then add alcohol to precipitate solids that are removed). Add glycerine and apply the ointment 3-4 times daily to the affected area (but not ulcerated lesions) for treating frostbite.
Qing Liang Fen: combine powdered talcum (120g), licorice (20g) and borneol (12g): sprinkle on affected area 3-5 times daily for treatment of sunburn causing erythema, wheals, or itching.
Dahuang Bingpian Fang: combine 100g rhubarb powder and 20g borneol in 250g table vinegar: let steep for 7 days; apply to affected sites 3 times daily for seborrheic dermatitis.
Dingxiang Bingpian San: combine 30g cloves with 6g borneol: grind to powder and apply to underarms 1-2 times daily to treat sweat odor.
The California Health Department, Food and Drug Branch, has raised concerns about the safety of borneol in patent remedies. Guanxin Suhe Wan, because it is currently available in the form of small capsules, might be accidentally taken in some overdose, but it seems unlikely that anyone would consume several times the 3 capsule recommended amount.
For references purposes, borneol is included in the amount of either 1% or 2% in some of the Seven Forests herb formulas made available from ITM for prescription by practitioners. In 700 mg tablets, this corresponds to 7-14 mg of borneol per tablet. With daily dosing of 6-18 tablets (the upper dose being the highest recommended in the ITM literature and twice the highest amount suggested on the label), the amount of borneol taken in one day can range from 42 mg (6 tablets, 1%) to 252 mg (18 tablets, 2%). The amount of borneol is either below or within the range suggested by the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (100-300 mg), and corresponds well with recommendations in various Materia Medica guides (which have dosages as low as 30 mg). The Seven Forests formulas, used as examples of traditional-style prescriptions, have about the same concentration of borneol (1-2%) as does ordinary cardamon seed. Cardamon, including sharen and baidoukou, commonly used as a medicinal as well as food spice, typically contains 2-3% essential oil, for which borneol and camphor, as well as closely related chemical compounds, are the primary constituents.
The concern about borneol apparently stems from a worry about camphor oil.
Dose: 0.3-0.9g (taken directly)