Botanically known as Cinnamomum camphora, this soft wood is very similar to rosewood, but with a much more renewable source. It is a large evergreen tree that grows to almost 100 feet tall, and is quite invasive. Its root system is massive and its spreading can disrupt urban drainage and sewer systems, as well as degrading river banks. Also, its leaves contain a high carbon content which damage water quality and fresh water fish habitats when they fall into rivers and streams. The camphor content in the leaves also serves to prevent other plants from germinating successfully, which ensures its success against potentially competing vegetation. Not to mention, that its seeds are very attractive to birds, and they pass in tact through the digestive system, ensuring rapid distribution. For these reasons, this tree has been deemed a "noxious weed" in many parts of Australia and Wales. It s also becoming a problem in the rain forests where it competes against eucalyptus trees, the sole food source of endangered koalas.
The tree itself has glossy, waxy appearing leaves that smell like camphor when they are crushed. In the Spring, it produces small white flowers and clusters of black berry like fruit among its bright green foliage. The bark is pale, rough, and has vertical fissures. Its wood,traditionally, was used to make the handles of Japanese swords and knives because it didn't scratch the blades (it's a soft wood). Today, it is most often used for the ornamental parts of houses and for cabinet making.
Cinnamomum camphora is native to Taiwan, Japan, China, and Indochina. It is largely produced by China and Japan, where it is cultivated for timber production and camphor. Camphor is a white crystalline substance that is obtained from the tree. It is usually sold in its solid, waxy form, and was an especially major industry in Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, where it was used medicinally and as a major component for smokeless gunpowder and celluloid. Primitive stills were set up in the mountainous areas (where the trees were/are usually found). The wood was chipped, then the chips were steamed. The camphor crystallized on the inside of a crystallization box after the vapor passed through a cooling chamber. Then they scraped it off and packed out to the government-run factories for processing and sale. Camphor was actually one of the most lucrative [of several important] government monopolies under the Japanese.
The essential oil of this laurel contains the volatile chemical compounds in all of the plant parts. The wood and leaves are steamed distilled for the EO's. This is quite an unique tree, as it has six different chemical variants, these are called chemotypes. They are camphor, linalool, 1,8 cineole, nerolidol, safrole or borneol. In China, the field workers avoid mixing the chemotypes when harvesting by their smell. The cineole fraction of this laurel is used (in China) to manufacture fake "eucalyptus oil" These chemical variants, the chemotypes, seem to be dependent upon the country of origin of the tree, and they are actually identifiable by the country. The Cinnamomum camphora, grown in Taiwan and Japan, called "Ho Wood", is normally very high in Linalool, usually between 80 and 85%. But the same tree, grown in India and Sri Lanka has a high camphor chemotype that remains dominant. The Cinnamomum camphora grown in Madagascar, on the other hand, is high in 1,8 Cineole, averaging between 40 and 50%. This essential oil [from the Madagascar trees] is commercially known as Ravintsara. While many variables affect crops, which in turn affect the scent and overall quality of essential oils, this degree of variation is rare and quite unique.
Getting back to the Ho Wood EO, according to Mountain Rose Herbs, it is classified as a middle note, and it has a bright, warm, slightly woody scent. It is mainly used (in the US) in the perfume industry as a substitute for rosewood oil. It is steam distilled from the twigs, leaves and wood of the tree, and has analgesic, antidepressant, antiseptic, and sedative properties, so it greatly benefits anxiety and depressive disorders. It is generally a safe EO, with no known issues.