143. Sassafras officinale, Nees.—The Sassafras Tree.
Laurus Sassafras, Linn.
Sex. Syst. Enneandria, Monogynia.
(Radix, L.—The Root, E. D.)
History.—Sassafras wood is mentioned by Monardes, [Hist. Simpl. Med. 1569—74.] who states that it had been recently introduced into Spain from Florida. It was, however, first brought to Europe by the French. [Alston's Lect. on the Mat. Med. vol. ii. p. 51.]
Botany. Gen. Char.—Dioecious. Calyx 6-parted, membranous; segments equal, permanent at the base. Males: Fertile stamens 9, in 3 rows, the 3 inner with double-stalked distinct glands at the base. Anthers linear, 4-celled, all looking inwards. Females with as many sterile stamens as the male, or fewer; the inner often confluent. Fruit succulent, placed on the thick fleshy apex of the peduncle, and seated in the torn unchanged calyx.—Flowers yellow, before the leaves. Leaves deciduous (Lindley).
Sp. Char.—Leaves thin, oblong, entire, 2—3-lobed.
A small tree, or bush. Leaves smooth above, finely downy beneath. Racemes with subulate downy bracts.
Hab.—Woods of North America, from Canada to Florida.
Description.—The root (radix sassafras) is used in medicine. Its bark (cortex radicis sassafras vel cortex sassafras) occurs in rather small pieces, which are light, odorous, not fibrous, but spongy or corky. The epidermis is brownish-gray: the cortical layers and inner surface reddish cinnamon brown, or almost rust-red, becoming darker by age. Sometimes small, white, micaceous crystals (like those found on sassafras nuts) are observed on the inner surface of the bark. Sassafras wood (lignum radicis sassafras vel lignum sassafras) occurs in the form of large stems or branches, frequently more or less covered with the bark. The wood is soft or spongy, light, of a grayish-reddish tint, and has a fragrant aromatic odour. It is usually sold cut up into chips: sassafras chips.
Brazilian Sassafras; Pào Sassafras.—This is the produce of Nectandra cymbarum of Nees, the Ocotea amara of Martius. It grows in Rio Negro. Its bark is bitter and aromatic, and is used as a tonic and carminative.
Sassafras Nuts; Pichurim Beans; Fabce Pichvrim.—These seeds (or rattier cotyledons) are the produce of Nectandra Pttchury major of Nees, and Nect. Puchury minor of Nees, trees growing in the province of Rio Negro. " They were imported from Brazil into Stockholm in the middle of the last century, and were found a valuable tonic and astringent medicine: during the continental war they were used as a bad substitute for nutmegs." They are still to be found in some of the old drug-houses of London. By keeping in a bottle, small micaceous crystals form on their surface. These seeds have been analyzed by Bonastre. [Journ. de Pharm vol. xi. p. 1, 1825.] Their aromatic qualities depend on a volatile oil.
Composition.—Neither the bark nor the wood have been analyzed. They contain volatile oil, resin, and extractive matter.
Physiological Effects.—The wood and the bark are stimulant and sudorific. Taken in the form of infusion, and assisted by warm clothing and tepid drinks, they excite the vascular system and prove sudorific. They owe their activity to the volatile oil, which possesses acrid properties.
Uses.—Sassafras is employed as a sudorific and alterative in cutaneous, rheumatic, and venereal diseases. On account of its stimulant properties it is inadmissible in febrile or inflammatory conditions of the system. It is rarely or never used alone, but generally in combination with sarsaparilla and guaiacum.
Administration.—Sassafras is administered in the form of oil or infusion. The dose of the oil is from two to ten drops. Sassafras tea, flavoured with milk and sugar, is sold at daybreak in the streets of London, under the name of saloop. Sassafras is a constituent of the Decoctum Sarzae Compositum; but the volatile oil is dissipated by boiling (see ante, p. 279).
OLEUM SASSAFRAS, [U. S.]; Volatile Oil of Sassafras officinale, E.; Oil of Sassafras.—(Obtained by submitting the wood to distillation with water.)—It is colourless, but, by keeping, becomes yellow or red. Its smell is that of sassafras; its taste hot. Sp. gr. 1.094. Water separates it into two oils; one lighter, the other heavier than water. By keeping, it deposits large crystals (stéaroptène; sassafrol, C10H5O2), which are readily soluble. Oil of sassafras is rendered orange-red by nitric acid. It is said to be adulterated with oil of lavender or oil of turpentine; [Bonastre, Journ. de Pharm, vol. xiv. p. 645, 1828.] but the statement, I suspect, does not apply to the oil found in English commerce. Oil of sassafras is stimulant and diaphoretic. It may be employed in chronic rheumatism, cutaneous diseases, and venereal maladies. It is a constituent of the Compound Extract of Sarsaparilla (see ante, p. 281).