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Sassafras (U. S. P.)—Sassafras.

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Preparations: Spirit of Sassafras - Mucilage of Sassafras Pith - Sassafras Lotion - Compound Fluid Extract of Sarsaparilla - Compound Decoction of Sarsaparilla
Related entries: Oleum Sassafras (U. S. P.)—Oil of Sassafras

The bark of the root and the pith of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury), O. Kuntze (Sassafras officinale, Nees; Laurus Sassafras, Linné; Laurus variifolium, Salisbury).
Nat. Ord.—Laurineae.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 220.

Botanical Source.—This is a small, indigenous tree, varying in height from 10 to 40 feet, with a trunk about 12 inches in diameter. The bark is rough and grayish; that of the twigs smooth and green. The leaves are alternate, petiolate, membranous, bright green, smooth above, finely downy beneath, very variable in form, some being obovate, others deeply 3-lobed, some lobed only on one side, all, however, tapering in a wedge-like manner into the petiole. The flowers which appear before the leaves, are small, greenish-yellow, in terminal and axillary, corymbose racemes, with linear bracts. Calyx 6-parted, membranous, and permanent at base. The male flowers have 9 stamens; the females 6; style simple. The fruit is an oval, succulent drupe, rather larger than a pea, bright-blue in color and borne upon red, clavate peduncles (L).

History and Description.—Sassafras is a well known tree common to the woods of North America, from Canada to Florida, and flowering in the latter part of April or early in May. The odor of the flowers is slightly fragrant, and they, together with the leaves and young branches are used in decoction, in many parts of the country as a spring medicine to cleanse the blood. Sassafras was one of the chief remedies used by the American Indians, and the wood became known in Europe under the name Lignum pavanum, or Lignum Floridum, about the year 1582. (For a detailed account of the history of sassafras, see Dr. Frederick Hoffmann, in Die Aetherischen Oele, p. 514; J. U. Lloyd, Amer. Druggist, 1898, pp. 258 and 295; and Wm. Procter, Jr., Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1866, pp. 481-492.) The root, bark, and the pith are the medicinal parts now in use, but the bark of the root is generally employed in this country; it is by far the most active part of the whole tree. Its virtues are due to a yellow essential oil, which may be obtained by distilling the wood with water (see Oleum Sassafras). Hot water, in infusion, or alcohol, takes up the active principles of the bark, but boiling dissipates them. The whole root of sassafras is official in the British Pharmacopoeia, but only the root-bark and pith are official in this country.

I. SASSAFRAS (U. S. P.), Sassafras.—"The bark of the root of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury), O. Kuntze (Nat. Ord.—Laurineae)"—(U. S. P.). "In irregular fragments, deprived of the gray, corky layer; bright rust-brown, soft, fragile, with a short, corky fracture; the inner surface smooth; strongly fragrant; taste sweetish, aromatic, and somewhat astringent"—(U.S. P.). (See microscopical structure of the root-bark, described by Prof. E. S. Bastin, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1895, p. 312; also see microscopical distinctions between root and stem bark in powdered form, by Katharine C. Burnett, Pharm. Era, Vol. XVII, 1897, p. 413.)

II. SASSAFRAS MEDULLA (U. S. P.), Sassafras pith.—"The pith of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury), O. Kuntze (Nat. Ord.—Laurineae)"—(U. S. P.). "In slender, cylindrical pieces, often curved or coiled, light, spongy, white, inodorous, and insipid. Macerated in water it forms a mucilaginous liquid, which is not precipitated on the addition of alcohol"—(U. S. P.). It is stated that pith collected before the 15th of October assumes a brown hue, probably on account of the presence of plant juices which would have disappeared after that date (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1856, p. 412).

Chemical Composition.—Dr. Reinsch (1845) obtained from the bark of the root essential oil, fatty matter, balsamic resin, wax, tannic acid, starch, and sassafrid, a principle, probably an oxidation product of tannic acid (Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. XVIII, p. 159). (For the chemistry of the essential oil see Oleum Sassafras; also see Dr. Clemens Kleber, Amer. Druggist, Vol. XXXIII, 1898, p. 294.)

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Sassafras is a warm, aromatic stimulant, alterative, diaphoretic, and diuretic. It is generally used in combination with other alteratives, particularly podophyllum, whose flavor it improves, in syphilitic affections, chronic rheumatism, scrofula, and many cutaneous eruptions. Stubborn cases require also the aid of vapor, spirit or sulphur baths. The mucilage of the pith (2 drachms to 1 pint of water) is used as a local application in acute ophthalmia, and is a demulcent drink in disorders of the chest, bowels, kidneys, and bladder. The oil, in doses of from 5 to 10 drops on sugar, is used to afford relief in the distressing pain attending menstrual obstructions, and that following parturition; also used in diseases of the kidneys and bladder. I have also derived some benefit from its internal use in gonorrhoea and obstinate gleet; 5 to 10 drops on sugar, 3 times a day (J. King), Externally, as a rubefacient, in painful swellings, sprains, bruises, rheumatism, etc., and is said to check the progress of gangrene. An infusion of the bark (℥j to hot water Oj) administered internally and applied externally is reputed an excellent treatment for rhus poisoning.

Related Species.Umbellularia californica, Nuttall. This is a large evergreen tree, which is found growing in the mountainous regions of California. It is known by various common names, of which the following have been recorded: Mountain laurel, California laurel, California spice-tree, Sassafras laurel, Cajuput tree, and California olive. There has been some considerable difficulty in determining its precise botanical position, and it has been variously described as Umbellularia californica, Oreodaphne californica, Drimophyllum pauciflorum, Tetranthera californicum, and Laurus regia. The flowers appear in April, in lateral clusters, and are of a greenish-yellow color. The leaves are alternate, lanceolate, entire, and of a firm texture. They are borne on short leaf-stalks, and end in slender, acuminate points. The fresh or dry leaves are odorless, unless broken or bruised, when they exhale a pungent, aromatic odor, somewhat resembling cajuput oil. They are sharp and biting to the. taste, and we find that both the odor and taste depend upon the presence of a volatile oil, which we obtained, in the proportion of 6 fluid drachms to 1 pound of green leaves, by distillation with water. This oil is the characteristic principle, and was previously examined by Mr. John P. Heamy, of California (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 105; and Med. and Surg. Jour., 1875), who obtained 4 per cent from the leaves. He states that the exhalation from the fresh leaves occasions headache; and this statement is supported by a communication received by us from Dr. L. Mann, although we perceived no ill effects when distilling the oil. The oil has a sharp, biting taste, an odor resembling cajuput and nutmegs, and is of a greenish-straw color. The oil is composed of a hydrocarbon, boiling at 175° C. (347° F.), and oreodaphnol, boiling at 210° C. (410° F.), and containing oxygen (Heamy, loc. cit.). The latter is probably allied to the umbellol of Stillman (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1880, p. 313). The seeds contain a crystalline fatty acid termed umbellulic acid (C11H22O2) by Stillman and O'Neill, 1882.

Dr. L. Mann sent a specimen of this plant to Mr. Curtis G. Lloyd, who forwarded to him its botanical name, with description. Dr. Mann states that it is a valuable remedy in nervous headache, cerebro-spinal meningitis, bilious colic, and atonic diarrhoea. According to his experience, it certainly demands a careful investigation. Dose of the fluid extract of the leaf is from 5 minims to 1/2 fluid drachm, repeated 3 or 4 times a day, or as may be required.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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