Borneol is a terpene valued for its woody, camphor-like aroma. A staple of Asian traditional medicine, borneol is an effective anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, primarily as a topical. Borneol has also proven effective as an anticoagulant for stroke patients, and may increase the effectiveness of other drugs.
What is borneol?
Derived from dryobalanops aromatica, a member of the teak family of trees, the borneol terpene was historically harvested by tapping the tree's trunk. The terpene was then cooled and hardened into a clear substance. Today, most borneol is created through turpentine oil or camphor and then ground down into a powder for medicinal use. Borneol, then, can be both created synthetically and found in nature. Asian cultures pioneered the use of borneol thousands of years ago and continue to implement it today in holistic treatments. Borneol has captured the attention of Western medicine as well, with Dr. Ralph Stockman of Scotland conducting the first experiments of the substance's physiological effects in 1888.
Borneol in everyday life
The list of potential borneol uses is long and diverse. A core element in Chinese herbal medicine, borneol is used to facilitate digestion, improve circulation, and ease pain brought on by rheumatic diseases. Chinese herbalists also use the bitter tasting terpene to treat bronchitis, coughs, and colds while recognizing its stress-relieving qualities. For this reason, acupuncturists may burn borneol as a moxa to apply topically. A moxa is made from mugwort leaves and other ingredients to be applied on or above the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine, the borneol is associated with the heart, lungs, liver, and spleen meridians or energy centers.
In contrast, borneol may be used as an active ingredient in insect repellants, even shielding against serious mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus. But while its scent is toxic for bugs, it has a much different effect on us. Some people compare the sensory experience of borneol to walking through a forest of minty balsam fir trees. This refreshing sensation makes borneol a key component of many therapeutic-grade essential oils. For example, thyme borneol oil bears a fresh yet spicy and powerful fragrance. Contemporary uses of thyme borneol oil include as a stimulant for the immune system as well as the traditional Chinese uses for the digestive system and to treat respiratory illnesses. Besides thyme, borneol also naturally occurs in ginger, rosemary, sage, camphor, marjoram and mugwort. So, you may have experienced borneol before if you've ever received an aromatherapy massage with herbal oils.
Therapeutic benefits of borneol
Some studies have shown borneol has therapeutic properties with possible medical applications.
In cell-culture models of gingivitis, borneol has been shown to reduce inflammation. These results suggest that this compound could be added to medicated mouth wash in order to ease conditions such as red gums or tonsilitis. This study was performed in 2013 study and published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.
Topical pain reliever
Applying diluted thyme borneol oil is thought to soothe aching joints and muscles. In addition, one study testing pain relief outcomes found that topical borneol had significantly more favorable effects than a placebo did.
Long hailed in Asia as a preventative treatment for cardiovascular disease, borneol may also be used to treat thrombosis patients. In this fashion, and in conjunction with a free-radical reducing agent edaravone, borneol could potentially reduce the risk of blood clots. A 2014 study in rats found that ischemic stroke damage was reduced by borneol.
Other therapeutic uses
Borneol has a wide range of potentially therapeutic uses. In addition to those listed above, it is also being investigated as an aid to the absorption of medical compounds, including those that treat cancer.
Role of borneol in cannabis
Of the 200+ terpenes found in cannabis, borneol is among the most common. Cannabis varieties that are high in borneol content include hybrid strains like K13-Haze and Golden Haze. In isolation, borneol has been found to simultaneously reduce stress and fight fatigue, leaving people in a relaxed yet not sedated state. Research has yet to determine what role, if any, borneol has in changing the effects of cannabis.
At the intersection of ancient Eastern herbalism and modern Western medicine, borneol is lauded for its healing powers in an unusually broad spectrum of conditions.
Major contributions from Dr. Adie Rae.