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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!

16 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….

  • can this be used on mouth ulcers?

    • Sorry, I have no idea about that use.

    • Where can one buy it with original ingredients ?

  • It was actually made in Yorkshire, close to Haworth. If anyone is ever in England you should make a trip to the apothecary there and ask about it

    • Interesting. I was thought that it was a South African invention because its a common-place item there.

  • We are the official manufacturers and distributors of Zambuk from the UK. It’s made as near to the original recipe as current cosmetics legislation allows.
    Our company – Grafton International purchased the Rose & Co brand from Pat and Caroline in 2015 and i am now the brand controller
    Get in touch if you need to know more about original Zambuk from the UK
    http://www.roseandcompany.com

    • Thanks for this information. We have a lot of queries about Zambuk.

      • I have severe hearing loss and have to wear hearing aid moulds – for years it drove me insane – my ears were constantly weeping and causing sores inside the hearing canal – itching and aching and driving me around the bend – I would have to go on to antibiotics and creams for a week to clear it up – but after using my hearing aid moulds for a week, it would start all over again.
        Then my sister said to me, I always see little tins of Zam-Buk in your home and you always carry a tin in your handbag – try putting a little bit of zam-buk on a earbud on the insides of your hearing canal – it has been almost 5 months and I have not had the slightest weeping or itching in my ears – pure joy – I now only put it on once every two weeks or so, or when I remember- I am a true believer of zambuck- thank you

    • I regularly break out in sun activated cold sores. Will Zam Buk prevent these?

      • Sorry, I do not have any information about that use.

      • Possibly, am currently using it on my shingles sores at the moment.
        The Thai stuff is a smal tin of magic, the uk stuff almost as good though the smell is much less strong – prob better for your face.
        Dr said to take paracetamol for the pain – does nothing. A couple of mins with Zam Buk & almost pain free 😊

  • I had my toe swollen and I thought it was gaut l applied
    And it worked swelling was gone and I had no more pain after fifteen minutes surprised it really works

  • Zam-Buk is the best remedy for winter hands, cracking skin and chapped lips. Everyone in South Africa use it, from the rich to the poor. It must have been introduced here by the Brittish when we where still a British Colony.
    Some people even injest it to cure their stomach ulcers – Yuk!

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