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Zam-Buk: A healing antiseptic ointment

I thought that Zam-Buk might be boring. 
I vaguely remember a tin of it at home when I was a child although I don’t remember it being used.   It was just there.  According to the script on the tin it is used “for cuts, bruises, scratches, burns, scalds, athlete’s foot, piles, ulcers, eczema, sores, sprains, pimples, chilblains, cold sores, chafed skin and insect bites.”  It probably works too.  There are several formulas for Zam-Buk but they all contain camphor, eucalyptus oil and thyme oil all of which are somewhat antimicrobial and both camphor and eucalyptus have analgesic properties. Most contain beeswax.  Some formulas contain rosin, petrolatum and sassafras.
The origins of Zam-Buk can be traced back to 1903. It first appeared on Rugby and Football fields in Australia and New Zealand. When a player would get injured first aid officers would race across the field to tend the injured player, they would quickly apply the zam buk to the injured area. Zam-Buk acted as an antiseptic thus cleansing the wound and eliminating the chances of the wound becoming infected.
The ‘Zam-Buk’ name found its way into rugby league, and other sports, by the St Johns ambulance-men who carried it in their kit-bags to treat players on the field and sidelines. The advertising cry of “Here Comes Zam-Buk” referred to the product, but within barely a few years of its introduction, ‘Zam-Buk’ came to mean the ambulance-men themselves.
There are all sorts of testimonials for Zam-buk on the Internet and several sources suggested the name came from the name of a South African town.  I couldn’t find this town in my atlas although I did find “Zambué in Mozambique.  I love the story of a soldier in India who was suffering from ‘prickly heat and ‘crutch’ rot”.  He got no relief from medications prescribed by the medicos but another soldier told him about Zam-Buk and that cleared it right up.
Our Zam-Buk tin has the same stylized product label that I saw in pictures on the Internet although some of the other decoration differed slightly.  Ours was manufactures by C. E. Fulford Ltd. Leeds 2. England.  I found a note that manufacturing there was discontinued in 1998.  It is available from several sources on the Internet.
Rose and Co. Apothecary in Leeds says that they use the original formula for Zam-Buk. This is, apparently, a relatively new enterprise specializing in Vintage cosmetics and Victorian packaging. Mother and daughter, Patrician and Caroline Rose bought an old druggists shop, became fascinated with everything vintage and started producing their own Rose Petal Salve.  They branched out to other products plus dainty lingerie.
I love the juxtaposition of tough, sweaty footballers with delicate, feminine ladies both slathering on the Zam-Buk!

3 Comments

  • i want to try this product for excema and dry skin

  • In South Africa every household has at least 1 tin of Zambuck. A basic cure-all balm

  • Zam-buk is sold everywhere in South Africa, its still a household name….

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