Women Who Launch: ZAM-BUK

The Brand, The Women & The Fakes

Finally, a subject without a wikipedia link! For my grandmother and her predecessors, Zam-Buk is a mircale cure-all. Until recently, I had forgotten about this wonderful little tin of green miracle balm. Zam-Buk is a traditional embrocating balm with many uses.  For generations around the world, people have used Zam-Buk to soothe cuts, wounds, bruises, sores, scalds, athlete’s foot, pimples, ulcers, eczema, burns, insect bites and much more.

The Origins of Zam-Buk
Zam-Buk has over 100 years of rich history. For some, Zam-Buk is a South African brand named after a town in northern Nigeria called Zambuk – a place known for traditional medicines. For others, Zam-Buk is an English invention – when a British war veteran took this miracle balm back home after the war. He referred to this balm as a secret ointment that can cure all ailments. For the rest, Zam-Buk brand belongs to Australia & New Zealand. Without wikipedia, who knows?!

The truth (it seems) is Zam-Buk company was originally manufactured by Fison Limited in Leeds, Yorkshire in the early 1900s.

The original label and packaging of Zam-Buk in the 1900s

It was not long before chemists started putting Zam-Buk on their shelves, and Saint John ambulance men started carrying it in their medical kits to treat sports injuries. Zam-Buk quickly made its way to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the rest of the world.

What’s In The Tin?
Zam-Buk is a green opaque natural ointment, with the consistency of Vaseline, and a distinct scent. Made from primarily eucalyptus oil, camphor and thyme oil, Zam-Buk is an anti-microbal with mild analgesic properties.

The Demise of Zam-Buk
Until the middle of the last century, Zam-Buk was a global household first-aid essential. But, the introduction of  antibiotics gained rapid popularity as a remedy of great efficacy. This saw the demand for Zam-Buk faded almost instantly. By 1994, Fison Limited, was bought over by Fisher Scientific.

In the same year, Zam-Buk, the small and ailing brand, was discontinued by its new parent.

The Revival of Zam-Buk: Caroline & Patricia Rose
Two years later, Fisher Scientific approached a mother and daughter team – Caroline and Patricia Rose, who had their own apothecary business called Rose & Co. Apothecary, to re-manufacture Zam-Buk to appease Zam-Buk devotees.  Rose & Co. began to manufacture and sell Zam-Buk (visit Rose & Co.’s website). This was the start of Zam-Buk’s brand revival.

Montage of Caroline Rose

Today, Zam-Buk is once again a popular household item. The ointment is produced around the world by many companies including Bayer. In fact, it has become so popular that there are millions of ‘fakes’ on the market for sale. In 2009, pharmaceutical company Bayer believes more than two million counterfeit tins of Zam-Buk on the market (More on the report here).

Fake vs. Real
How do we differentiate the fake and the real thing? Well, the good news is that the fake Zam-Buk tins are easily recognizable when examined with a cautious eye. Especially the 7g tins.

The real Zam-Buk 7g tins have an identifiable steel ring around its lid, whereas the counterfeit tins have a white rim or ring around it. Also, most counterfeits are sold at spaza shops (means informal convenience shops in South Africa) or through hawkers.

Difference between genuine and counterfeit Zambuk

“Using the fake Zam-Buk, which could have cheap or dangerous ingredients that imitate the look but not the effect of the original Zam-Buk, could be extremely harmful to users,” says Sturgeon Steyn, a Bayer Consumer Care representative.

The next time you reach out for a tin of Zam-Buk, look at the tin, read the label and make sure it is the real thing.

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