Sassafras officinale. Sassafras.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order, Lauraceae. The Laurus sassafras of Linnaeus. A genus of small trees, usually ten to twelve feet high, but sometimes twenty-five or thirty feet. Trunk from six to twelve inches in diameter, covered with a dark-gray, furrowed, and aromatic bark; branches smooth, twigs greenish-yellow. Leaves alternate, large, variable in shape from ovate to three-lobed, tapering at the base, light-green and smooth above, grayish-downy beneath, soft, mucilaginous, deciduous. Flowers dioecious, in clustered and corymbose racemes, small, greenish-yellow, appearing with the leaves, naked; calyx six-parted, spreading; stamens nine in the sterile flowers, inserted in three rows on the calyx, six in the fertile flowers. Fruit a deep-blue, ovoid drupe, as large as a pea, supported on a red and club-shaped pedicel. Common in rich woods, blooming in April.

The inner bark of the trunk, and especially the bark of the root, is aromatic and warming, with a pleasant taste peculiar to itself. It contains a large quantity of volatile oil, which is of a yellowish color, fragrant, and heavier than water. The bark of the root is ruby-red, in short pieces, and brittle. The twigs contain a white pith, which is very light, mucilaginous, and slightly gummy.

Properties and Uses: The bark is an aromatic relaxant and stimulant, yielding most of its properties to water, but commonly rendered almost worthless by boiling. A warm infusion is a fair stimulating diaphoretic and nervine, useful in colds and recent obstructions of the menses, and a popular drink in skin affections, etc. It is much used as an addition to alterants in sirups for syphilis, scrofula, rheumatism, and skin diseases, but is usually boiled till it is nearly inert. I would respectfully call the attention of the profession to its action as a stimulant to the capillary circulation and the absorbents, in which direction I apprehend its chief value lies. As an addition to poultices and fomentations, the powdered bark will be found of much value in bruises and congested swellings; and combined with mullein, makes a superior appliance in swollen face, chronic abscesses, and similar cases. Under such circumstances, it both relieves the suffering and promotes the absorption of effused materials. The same influence would no doubt be good in local dropsies. While the oil represents the bark in part, it represents this particular property only to a limited extent.

The oil is among the best of the nervine stimulants and relaxants, less exciting than origanum, but more so than spearmint. It enters into most rubefacient liniments for rheumatism, deep-seated congestions and inflammations, dropsies, abdominal and pelvic sufferings, sprains, bruises, etc. Some use it internally, in doses of from two to four drops on sugar, for painful menstruation; but its action is not equal to an infusion of the bark. As an adjuvant to lobelia and other unpleasant agents, it is excellent.

The pith yields a large amount of mucilage on maceration in water, and is very well accepted by the stomach in irritation of the stomach, bowels, respiratory passages, kidneys, and bladder. With many, it is a favorite local application in acute ophthalmia. Cold water, of which it absorbs a large quantity, is best to moisten it with. The oil is an ingredient in the Stimulating Liniment mentioned under capsicum.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at