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(Laurel family)


2000 to 2500 species in 32 genera are found in tropical and subtropical regions.

[Summary yet to be added]

Alseodaphne insignis Gamble

The bark contains fine needle-like pruritogenic particles (von Reis Altschul 1973) and the inner bark, or possibly the sawdust, irritates the skin of sawyers (Burgess 1966).

Aniba coto Kosterm.
[syn. Nectandra coto Rusby]

Cotoin derived from the bark is irritant to the mucous membranes (Budavari 1996).

Aniba rosaeodora
Bois de Rose Femelle


Aniba duckei
Pau Rosa

The wood of these species replaced Convolvulus as the main source of oil of rosewood in the 19th century. According to Woods and Calnan (1976) the rosewood which Großmann (1910, 1920) reported as causing dermatitis and constitutional symptoms in wood workers was from this genus. Rosewood oil produced at least one irritant reaction in patch tests on healthy subjects (Katz 1946). The chemistry of rosewood oil was investigated by Mors et al. (1957) and by Gottlieb and Mors (1959).

Beilschmiedia mannii Robyns & R.Wilczek
[syns Afrodaphne mannii Stapf, Oreodaphne mannii Meisn., Tylostemon kamerunensis Engl. & K.Krause, Tylostemon mannii Stapf]
Kanda, Spicy Cedar

The pressed fruits of this tropical West African tree are used as a counter-irritant for coughs, bronchitis, intercostal pains and rheumatism (Kerharo & Bouquet 1950, Irvine 1961).

Cinnamomum Schaeff.

250 species are native to eastern Asia and IndoMalaysia.

Some 15 species yield essential oils (Gildemeister and Hoffman 1956).

Sources of Cinnamon and Cassia:

Cinnamomum cassia J.Presl — provides cassia bark and oil of cassia (also known as oil of cinnamon)
Cinnamomum loureirii Nees — provides Saigon cinnamon bark
Cinnamomum mercadoi Vidal — sometimes substituted for Cinnamomum verum
Cinnamomum oliveri Bailey — provides Australian cinnamon bark (black sassafras)
Cinnamomum tamala Nees & T.Nees — provides Indian cassia, which is sometimes substituted for Cinnamomum verum
Cinnamomum verum J.Presl — provides true cinnamon bark and oil of cinnamon 

Distilled Cinnamon leaf oil contains less cinnamic aldehyde than oil from the bark.

The botanical origin of oils of cinnamon and cassia is lacking from some published reports. The name oil of cinnamon used by American authors usually refers to C. cassia. A patient who was contact sensitive to C. cassia was stated to be able to handle C. zeylanicum without ill-effect (Laubach et al. 1953).

Allergic contact dermatitis from cinnamon may flare up, taking the form of pompholyx, following ingestion of cinnamon (Pirilä 1970).

Cinnamic aldehyde in toothpaste caused contact sensitivity (Magnusson & Wilkinson, Kirton & Wilkinson 1975).

Opportunities for contact with cinnamic aldehyde were reviewed by Collins and Mitchell (1975). Cinnamic aldehyde in perfumes can cause dermatitis (Schorr 1975).

Cinnamomum camphora J.Presl
[syns Camphora japonica Garsault, Camphora officinarum Nees, Cinnamomum camphora T. Nees & Eberm., Laurus camphora L.]
Camphorwood, Japanese Camphor Tree

Camphor, also known as gum camphor or laurel camphor, is distilled from the wood or young shoots of this tree. Laurel camphor is dextrorotatory whilst synthetic camphor (prepared from oil of turpentine) is optically inactive. Early references to camphor refer not to laurel camphor but to Borneo camphor obtained from Dryobalanops aromatica C.F.Gaertn., fam. Dipterocarpaceae (Trease & Evans 1966).

According to Wren (1975), camphor can safely be applied externally in all cases of inflammation, bruises, and sprains. However, following cases of serious toxicity and even death in children, products containing more than trace quantities of camphor have now largely been withdrawn from the market (Reynolds 1996).

When camphor is rubbed into the skin or kept in contact with the skin and evaporation prevented, it is an irritant. When applied in alcoholic solution and allowed to evaporate, it is a refrigerant and blanches the skin. Application of Oil of Camphor to the skin produces a sensation of warmth followed by a slight degree of local anaesthesia (Greenberg and Lester 1954). The vapour is irritant to the eye (Finkenrath 1941). Oil of Camphor is said to be a contact sensitiser (Flandin et al. 1937, Urbach 1942) as well as an irritant (Schwartz et al. 1957). In camphor factories, fumes of acetic acid can cause keratitis (Duke-Elder & McFaul 1972).

Großmann (1920) experienced severe headache and giddiness after working with camphorwood. The wood contains camphor and borneol. It is sometimes used for chests and cabinets.

Cinnamomum cassia J.Presl
[syns Cinnamomum aromaticum Nees, Cinnamomum cassia D.Don, Laurus cassia L., Laurus cassia Nees & T.Nees, Persea cassia L.]
Bastard Cinnamon, Chinese Cinnamon, Cassia, Cannelier de Chine, Zimtkassie

Oil of Cinnamon (Oil of Cassia) derived from this plant is irritant and can blister the tongue; allergic contact dermatitis from the oil or from the bark and flower buds used as a spice can occur in cooks, bakers, grocers and confectioners (Tulipan 1932, Silvers 1939, Zundel and Jentsch 1939, Howell 1946, Epstein 1950, Wütrich 1970).

A girl who dipped toothpicks in Oil of Cassia to flavour them developed dermatitis of the hands and forearms. The face and lower abdomen were affected by contact with the hands (White 1887). A woman developed contact dermatitis of the lips, right cheek and right hand from a toothpaste containing cinnamon oil. Patch tests to "synthetic" cinnamon oil 1% in alcohol and to a natural cinnamon oil 5% in olive oil produced positive reactions (Laubach et al. 1953). Oil of cinnamon in toothpaste caused dermatitis of the left hand to which the toothpaste was applied; the face and lips were not affected (Cummer 1940). A candy-maker who handled cinnamon flavouring developed dermatitis of the hands, abdomen and thighs; patch tests to the crushed candy which contained 1% cassia flavouring, to oil of cinnamon leaves 5% in olive oil and to cinnamic aldehyde 5% in petrolatum produced positive reactions; negative to Oil of Mace (Myristica fragrans Houtt., fam. Myristicaceae), Oil of Capsicum and vanillin (Kern 1960). In a case of dermatitis of the face and hands from a toothpaste containing cinnamon oil, the buccal mucous membrane was unaffected but ingestion of the oil resulted in recurrence of dermatitis of the hands; a patch test to cinnamon oil 1% in alcohol produced a positive reaction; negative to oil of Peppermint (Mentha piperita, fam. Labiatae), Oil of Anise (Pimpinella anisum, fam. Umbelliferae) and methyl salicylate (Leifer 1951).

In a finisher of chewing gum who had dermatitis, patch tests to diluted cassia flavouring and to spearmint (Mentha spicata, fam. Labiatae) produced positive reactions (Morris 1954).

A candy maker who had dermatitis of the hands developed generalized dermatitis after a positive patch test reaction to cinnamon oil (Downing 1947).

A woman exposed to the vapour of cinnamon oil, used for making bubble gum, developed cheilitis; a patch test to cinnamon oil 2% in alcohol produced a positive reaction, negative in 8 controls (Miller 1941).

The oil of Cinnamon of the United States Pharmacopoeia is the volatile oil distilled from the leaves and twigs of this plant. This oil is known as Oil of Cassia in the British Pharmaceutical Codex. Oil of Cassia in perfumes can cause dermatitis (Greenberg and Lester 1954, Schwartz et al. 1957) and is removed from certain cosmetics (Anon 1973).

Cinnamon can cause dermatitis in pharmaceutical chemists (Schwartz et al. 1957).

Cinnamic aldehyde is a constituent of cinnamon oils and the synthetic chemical is used for flavouring (Collins and Mitchell 1975). Cinnamic aldehyde is allergenic and cross-sensitises with cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic acid and balsam of Peru (from Myroxylon balsamum Harms, fam. Leguminosae) (Hjorth 1961). Cinnamic aldehyde was found to be a sensitiser in toothpaste (Magnusson and Wilkinson 1975) The chemical has been observed to cause contact urticaria (Malten 1973).

Schorr (1975) observed five patients who were contact sensitive to cinnamic aldehyde. Additional sensitivity to Jasmin Absolute (Jasminum officinale, fam. Oleaceae) was observed. This material may contain α-amyl cinnamic aldehyde.

Cinnamomum loureirii Nees
Saigon Cinnamon

A female employed in making fruit juices developed vesicular dermatitis to the dorsum of the right hand and forearm flexure. A patch test to an aqueous extract of the bark produced a positive reaction, negative in controls (Ito 1972).

Cinnamomum mercadoi Vidal

The bark is rubefacient (Quisumbing 1951).

Cinnamomum verum J.Presl
[syns Camphora mauritiana Lukman., Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume, Laurus cinnamomum L.]
Ceylon Cinnamon, Cinnamon, Cannelier de Ceylan, Ceylonzimt, Echter Ceylonzimt

15 of 1382 patients who had eczema showed positive patch test reactions to a sample of Oil of Cinnamon. Some of the patients were also contact-sensitive to balsams of Peru and Tolu (see Myroxylon balsamum Harms, fam. Leguminosae), benzoin (Styrax spp., fam. Styracaceae), styrax (Liquidambar spp., fam. Altingiaceae), colophony and turpentine (Pinus spp., fam. Pinaceae), patchouli (Pogostemon patchouly, fam. Labiatae) and ginger (Zinziber officinalis, fam. Zingiberaceae) (Calnan 1970).

An oil from Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Cinnamomum cassia produced positive patch test reactions in 6 males and 15 females who had hand eczema; in 16 of the 21 persons, contact sensitivity to cinnamon appeared to be the main cause or a contributory cause of the eczema (Agrup 1969).


200 to 250 species are found in tropical regions, except in Cental Africa, and in the subtropics. The fruits of Cryptocarya moschata (Brazilian nutmeg) are used as a spice.

Cryptocarya pleurosperma C.T.White & W.D.Francis
[syn. Cryptocarya glabella Domin]
Poison Walnut

Webb (1948c) noted that after handling the cut bark or wood, there is a delay of 1–3 days before patchy redness and some small blisters appear on the hands. The blisters are somewhat itchy. About 4–5 days after this, the lips feel dry and burning, and an itchy red swelling begins to appear under the eyes. A rash also appears around the mouth. Over the next 3–4 days, these symptoms and signs increase in severity. There is a sensation of itchiness, dryness, and burning, and redness and swelling of the face below the eyes, and around the mouth. The lips feel dry and burning, and become cracked and swollen. In addition, the scrotum becomes inflamed, with the same symptoms of itchiness and "dry scalding" which accompany the facial reaction. There is a dull headache, and a general feeling of listlessness, and, at times, dizziness. Exposure to the sun aggravates the symptoms. About 11 days after contact, the symptoms begin to subside. He ascribed the cause of these symptoms to the alkaloid cryotopleurine present in the wood.

Cryptopleurine, isolated from the sap and bark, an alkaloid with irritant and possibly allergenic properties, has also produced dermatitis in laboratory workers (de la Lande 1948, Gellert and Riggs 1954, Cleland & Lee 1963).


According to Woods and Calnan (1976) poison walnut is used a good deal in Australia despite its known toxicity.

Dicypellium caryophyllaceum Nees
[syns Dicypellium caryophyllatum Nees, Persea caryophyllacea Mart.]
Fap Cravo, Red Wood, Anella, Cayenne Rosewood, Nelkenzimt

The bark of this Brazilian tree is used as a substitute for cloves and cinnamon. It is known as clove bark or "cassia caryophyllata". The wood is valuable but is little exported from Brazil. Freise (1932) classed it with the toxic Nectandra and Ocotea spp.

Laurus L.

One species is native to Madeira and the Canary Islands. The other species of the genus, L. nobilis (laurel, sweet bay), is native to the Mediterranean region. The common Laurel (cherry laurel) of English gardens is Prunus laurocerasus (fam. Rosaceae).

Some laurel trees, known in Malaysia as Medang Miang, have irritant bark; the species names are not known with certainty (Corner 1952).

Laurus nobilis L.
Laurel, Sweet Bay

The leaved branches were used as wreaths and garlands in Ancient Rome thus providing other colloquial names: Roman or Noble Laurel. In NW Moroccan traditional medicine, oil from the leaf and fruit is applied externally for face care (Merzouki et al. 2000).

Bay leaf used as a culinary herb caused stomatitis and cheilitis (Jirasek and Skach 1962, Skach 1964). Oil of Bay (Laurel Oil) is derived from the leaves. Laurel oil in toothpastes and proprietary ointments (Spier & Sixt 1953) and in hat-bands (Gronemeyer 1953) caused dermatitis. The oil produced positive patch test reactions in 3.9% (Paschoud 1962) and in 5 of 1147 patients (Calnan 1970) in European eczema clinics. Wagner (1959) and Bandmann and Dohn (1960) referred to contact sensitivity to laurel oil.

Foussereau et al. (1967a, 1967b) made a detailed study of contact sensitivity to laurel oil. A sensiitiser present in the leaves of some races of L. nobilis is probably a sesquiterpene lactone (Asakawa et al. 1974). Cross-sensitivity can occur with some other plants notably Compositae and Magnoliaceae species which yield sesquiterpene lactones (Mitchell 1975). Laurel oil 2% in petrolatum is suitable for patch testing.

Litsea sp.
Kelantan Laurel, Medang

The sticky sap is said to be very irritant to the skin (von Reis Altschul 1973). The flowers are said to be irritant because of their fine hairs and the pulp of the ripe fruit is also irritant (Corner 1952).

Litsea cubeba Pers.
[syn. Laurus cubeba Lour.]

A balsam or oil from the plant was implicated in contact sensitivity (Rudzki and Grzywa 1976).

Litsea monopetala Pers.
[syns Litsea polyantha Juss., Tetranthera monopetala Roxb.]

The bark from Litsea polyantha is said to be very irritant (Burkill 1935).

Machilus thunbergii Siebold & Zucc.
[syns Litsea coreana H.Lév., Machilus arisanensis Hayata, Persea arisanensis Kosterm., Persea thunbergii Kosterm., etc.]
Japanese Machilus, Tabu-No-Ki

[Information available but not yet included in database]


This species colloquially named itauba has not been implicated in adverse effects (see Ocotea).

Botany of Nectandra, Ocotea and Phoebe.

Kukachka (1970) refers to:

Ocotea rodiaei (Greenheart); Ocotea rubra (Determa), and Phoebe porosa (Imbuia).

Woods and Calnan (1976) refer to:

Phoebe porosa Mez. — provides imbuya
[syn. Ocotea porosa L. Barr.]
Ocotea rodiaei Mez. — provides greenheart
[syn. Nectandra rodiaei (Hook.) Schomb.]
Ocotea barcellensis Mez. — provides louro inamui
Ocotea rubra Mez. — provides red louro
Ocotea puberula Nees — provides laurel amarillo
Ocotea usambarensis Engl. — provides East African camphorwood
Ocotea bullata E. Mey — provides stinkwood 

Friese (1932) divided the toxic Lauraceae woods of Brazil into three groups:

(a) Canella: Nectandra spp.

(b) Itauba: probably Ocotea spp. but not Mezilaurus which is another itauba (Record & Mell 1924).

(c) Pao cravo: Dicypellium

According to Freise (1932) all these contain apiol and at least two alkaloids which produced vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, cardiac stimulation, headaches and dizziness. Some Nectandra spp. from northern Brazil had a strongly irritant oil in their bark, which caused persistent pyoderma in the fingerwebs and at the angles of the mouth.

Nectandra rodiaei
[syn. Ocotea rodiaei]

The sawdust of this Antilles (West Indies) tree can produce respiratory symptoms in wood-workers (Handbook of Hardwoods 1956, Hanslian and Kadlec 1966, Sandermann & Barghoorn 1956). The alkaloid, berberine, may be responsible (Hausen 1970).

Nectandra splendens

The hollow branches of the tree house stinging ants (von Reis Altschul 1973).

Nothaphoebe panduriformis

The sap is said to be vesicant (Burkill 1935).

Ocotea spp.
Louro, Jiqua, Pisie

The South American species of this genus can cause dermatitis (Woods 1968).

Ocotea bullata

This species was listed as a cause of dermatitis by Schwartz et al. (1957) without clinical details.

Ocotea cymbarum
Brazilian Sassafras

A perfumery material Ocotea cymbarum oil, the principal component of which is safrole, is derived from this species (Furia & Bellanca 1971). A derivative, heliotropin, is said to cause dermatitis (Klarmann 1958).

Ocotea porosa Barroso
[syns Cinnamomum porosum Kosterm., Nectandra dubia Hassl., Nectandra speciosa Chanc., Oreodaphne porosa Nees & Mart., Phoebe porosa Mez]
Brazilian Walnut, Canella Imbuia, Embuia, Imbula, Imbuya, Brasilianische Pfefferholz

Imbuya sawdust was irritating to some workmen (Schmieg 1926). Schwartz (1931) described 11 cases of dermatitis venenata attributed to contact with the sawdust of "Brazilian walnut" among 100 workmen in a cabinetmaking plant. The timber in question was at the time identified as "embuia" derived from a Nectandra species. Record & Hess (1943) later identified the botanical source of the embuia more precisely as Phoebe porosa Mez. Patch tests with the sawdust produced positive reactions. Schwartz (1931) also referred to further cases at 9 out of 10 other firms that had had been supplied with the same timber by the importer.

This species was observed to cause mucocutaneous effects in woodworkers (de Carvalho 1956). The fine sawdust from Phoebe porosa is reported to be very irritating to certain individuals (Kukachka 1970).

Ocotea barcellensis
Louro Inamui


Ocotea puberula
Laurel Amarillo


Ocotea rubra
Red Louro

Many South American species of Ocotea or Nectandra are called louro or laurel. Record & Mell (1924) describe the wood of O. puberula as peppery. Woods and Calnan (1976) described five cases of dermatitis from louro used as a veneer in a furniture factory.

Two of five patients showed positive patch test reactions to the wood, three doubtful reactions. Seventeen other men with dermatitis (query in the factory or other eczema subjects) showed negative reactions to the wood. Two of the patients were also contact sensitive to Distemonanthus but three showed negative reactions.

Ocotea rodiaei
[syn. Nectandra rodiaei]

According to Woods and Calnan (1976) the wood of this species has sometimes been confused with the more irritating Surinam greenheart (Tabebuia, fam. Bignoniaceae). Splinters of Ocotea rodiaei cause troublesome wounds and the dust irritates workers' throats (Großmann 1920, Woods 1951). It contains several alkaloids (McKennis et al. 1956, Hearst et al. 1968).

Ocotea usambarensis
East African Camphorwood

Orsler (1973) received two trade reports of skin and mucous membrane irritation from the wood.

Persea americana Mill.
[syns Laurus persea L., Persea edulis Raf., Persea gratissima C.F.Gaertn., etc.]
Avocado, Alligator Pear Tree

The seed yields a milky juice the colour of which turns from red to black and marks cloth. Powdered seed is used as a rubefacient and the seed oil is irritant when used as an injection vehicle (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). The fruit pulp is edible.

Sassafras albidum Nees
[syns Laurus albidus Nutt., Laurus sassafras L., Sassafras officinale Nees & Eberm., Sassafras variifolium Kuntze]

Oil of Sassafras derived from this plant is said to produce dermatitis in hypersensitive individuals (Tulipan 1938). Heliotropin, a derivative of safrole, used in cosmetics, has been reported to cause dermatitis (Greenberg and Lester 1954).

Umbellularia californica Nutt.
[syns Oreodaphne californica Nees, Tetranthera californica Hook. & Arn.]
California Bay, California Laurel, California Olive, Oregon Myrtle

The genus is monotypic. The plant grows naturally in California (Mabberley 2008).

The bark and leaves contain a pungent volatile oil (Record & Hess 1943). Inhalation of the pungent emanations of this plant produces violent sneezing (Wodehouse 1971). The plant material produces irritation of the mucous membrane of some persons who handle it (Chittenden 1974).


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Richard J. Schmidt

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