Oleum Sassafras (U. S. P.)—Oil of Sassafras.

Botanical name: 

Related entry: Sassafras (U. S. P.)—Sassafras

A volatile oil distilled from the bark of the root of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury), O. Kuntz (Sassafras officinale, Nees). "It should be kept in well-stoppered bottles, protected from light"—(U. S. P.).
Nat. Ord.—Laurineae.

History and Preparation.—The sassafras tree grows in North America from Canada to Florida and Alabama, and westward as far as Kansas, and early attracted the attention of the American Indians on account of its peculiar and pleasant aroma, and its supposed power to purify the blood. Until about 1860, oil of sassafras was distilled from the root-bark in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, often in a rather primitive manner; since then, the oil has been manufactured on a large scale in other states, as New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and the New England states. In large plants, one charge consists of 20,000 pounds of wood, which is exhausted of its oil in about 48 to 50 hours. The yield is from 6 to 9 per cent, the wood of the root yields only about 0.9 per cent. (For interesting details regarding the history of sassafras and the preparation of its oil, see Dr. Frederick Hoffmann, in Die Aetherischen Oele, 1899, p. 514; also see J. U. Lloyd, "An Historical Study of Sassafras," in American Druggist, 1898, p. 258.)

Description.—According to Prof W. Procter, Jr. (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1866, p. 481), a reddish colored oil is yielded from the bark of old stump roots, while young roots are said to yield a colorless oil. The U. S. P. describes the oil as "a yellowish or reddish-yellow liquid, having the characteristic odor of sassafras without the odor of camphor, and a warm, aromatic taste. It becomes darker and thicker by age and exposure to air. Specific gravity, 1.070 to 1.090 at 15° C. (59° F.). Soluble, in all proportions, in alcohol, the solution being neutral to litmus paper; also soluble, in all proportions, in glacial acetic acid, and in carbon disulphide. If to 5 drops of the oil 5 drops of nitric acid be added, a violent reaction will take place, producing at first a red color, and finally converting the oil into a red resin. If to a few drops of the oil a drop of sulphuric acid be added, a deep-red color will be produced at first, which soon becomes blackish"—(U. S. P.). The oil is slightly dextro-rotatory (+3° to +4°). The above reaction with nitric acid, first observed by Bonastre (1828), is attended with emission of flame.

Chemical Composition.—Oil of sassafras, according to Gildemeister and Hoffmann (loc. cit., p. 522), has the following percentage composition, ascertained by Power and Kleber (Pharm. Review, 1896, p. 101): safrol (C10H10O2), 80 per cent; pinene (safrene of Grimaux and Ruotte, 1869) and phellandrene, together 10 per cent; dextro-camphor (ordinary Japan camphor), 6.8 per cent; eugenol (Pomeranz, 1890), 0.5 per cent; sesquiterpene in the highest fractions, and residue, 3 per cent.

SAFROL is a colorless or yellowish liquid, possessing the pure sassafras odor, and becomes solid upon moderate cooling; it melts again at 11° C. (51.8° F.). It was first observed by Binder, in 1821, as a deposit from the oil. Its specific gravity is 1.108, its boiling point 233° C. (451.4° F.). Chemically, it is the methylene ether of an allyl-pyrocatechin (C6H3.C3H5.OOCH2), and also occurs in large quantity in camphor oil, and in oils of star anise and cinnamon leaves.

Adulteration.—The substitution of sassafras oil by camphor oil is very difficult to detect, since the constituents of both are the same; sometimes deviations in specific gravity will point to substitution. Artificial oil of sassafras is thought to be a fraction of camphor oil having the same specific gravity as oil of sassafras (see Gildemeister and Hoffmann, loc. cit., p. 522). Oil of sassafras is rarely adulterated in this country with oils of turpentine, cloves, or lavender.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Sassafras oil is stimulant, diuretic, carminative, alterative and diaphoretic. It maybe used for all the purposes for which the bark is recommended. It is said to be an efficient application to wens. It is much used as a local application to rheumatic and other pains, and has proved advantageous when given internally in chronic gonorrhoea and cystirrhoea. Its dose is from 3 to 12 drops on sugar, or in emulsion. It is stated by Dr. Shelby, of Huntsville, that oil of sassafras will not only prevent the injurious effects of tobacco, but speedily remove them when produced; he has verified this either by combining the tobacco with some sassafras bark, and by smoking tobacco, in a strong pipe, to which a few drops of the oil has been added (Boston Jour. Chem., 1860).

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