As already mentioned under the oils of sweet birch and wintergreen,8) next to turpentine oil, the oil of sassafras was the first volatile oil distilled in North America. On account of the pleasant aroma, the root bark known as Pavame was chewed by the natives. It was also mixed with smoking tobacco9) and added as aromatic to refreshing beverages and was used as a remedy. On account of its peculiarity, the sassafras tree is said to have attracted the attention of the Spaniards at their first landing in Florida under Ponce de Leon in 1512, also under de Soto in 1538. They are said to have regarded it as a kind of cinnamon tree. Afterward the sassafras tree soon came to be regarded as a valuable medicinal plant10) and article of luxury of the new world. In Mexico it had long been regarded as such.11) As late as the first half of the 19. century the bark, leaves and buds were used in the middle and central states as a substitute for Chinese tea.1)
1) Wedel, De cinnamomo. Dissertatio. Jenae 1707.
2) Cartheuseri Elementa chymiae dogmatico-experimentalis. Halae 1736. Vol. 1, p. 127; vol. 2, pp. 109 and 187.
3) Neumannii Chymia medica dogmatico-experimentalis. Editio Kessel. Zullichau 1750. Vol. 2, pars 2, p. 20.
4) Philipp F. Gmelin, De analepticis quibusdam nobilioribus et cinnamomo. Dissertatio. Tubingen 1763.
5) J. F. A. Gottling, Analyse der Cassienzimtrinde. - Buchholz Taschen-buch fur Scheidekunstler und Apotheker 1804, 1.
6) Neues Berl. Jahrbuch fur Pharmacie 1805, 289.
7) Buchholz Taschenbuch fur Scheidekunstler und Apotheker 1814, 1. 8) See p. 118.
9) C. S. Rafinesque, Medicinal Flora or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America. 1830. Vol. 2, p. 235.
10) Monardes, Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias occidentales qui sirven en medicina. Sevilla 1574. p. 51. Editio latina Clusii. Antverpias 1593. pp. 355 - 359.
11) Joannis de Laet, Americas utriusque descriptio, Novus Orbis, seu descriptionis Indiae occidentalis libri 18 Lugduni Batav. 1633. p. 215.
As early as 1582 sassafras wood and bark became known in Germany as a new American drug and were used under the name of Lignum pavanum, Lignum floridum, Lignum xylo-marathrum (Fenchelholz).-) In 1610 young plants were brought to England and cultivated.3) Bark and wood were apparently first distilled in 1620 by Angelus Sala of Vicenza, who as body physician to the Duke of Mecklenburg, lived in Schwerin from 1610 - 1639, and who mentions that the oil is heavier than water.4) Schroeder's Pharmacopoea medico-chymica, published in Frank-furt-on-the-Main in 1641, is the first pharmacopoeia that gives directions for the distillation of the oil, whereas the municipal price ordinance of Frankfurt-on-the-Main of 1587 already enumerates Oleum ligni sassafras. Friedrich Hoffmann in Halle distilled the oil in 1715 and describes it as being colorless and specifically heavy.5) In 1738, John Maud, an Englishman, observed the formation of large crystals of sassafras camphor.6) Early examinations of the oil were made by Muschenbroeck, by Caspar Neumann,7) and by Dehne.8) The first thorough investigation was made by Grimaux and Ruotte9) in 1869.
Detailed and definite statements concerning the medicinal use of sassafras bark and wood appear to be wanting in American literature. This is also true of the early distillation of the oil. Aside from the communications by Monardes, De Laet and others, one of the first references to these drugs is found in the list of drugs mentioned on p. 94 (footnote 7), as having been imported from the "Province of Virginia" into England in 1610. More than a century later it is again mentioned in the reports on his travels made by the Swedish botanist Peter Kalm, who in 1748 - 1749 traveled through the north Atlantic provinces of the then English colony as far as Montreal and Quebec. He found the sassafras tree widely distributed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.1) Kalm also mentions that the bark and wood are used for flavoring rootbeer and brandy, also universally as medicament. In the distillation of brandy, bark and root are distilled with the brandy.2)
1) J. U. Lloyd, Historical study of Sassafras. Pharmac. Era (New York), 20 (1898), 608.
2) Fluckiger, Dokumente zur Geschichte der Pharmacie. Halle 1876. pp. 30-31.
3) Fluckiger and Hanbury, Pharmacographia. 1879. p. 537.
4) Sala, Opera physico-medica. Hydrelaeologia. Rostock 1639. p. 84.
5) Fr. Hoffmannii Observationes physico-chymicae. Observatio /. De oleis destillatis inque eomm destillatione observanda. pp. 13 - 14.
6) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. London, 8 (1809), 243.
7) Caspar Neumann, Chymia medica dogmatico-experimental is. 1749. Vol. 2, pars 3, p. 248.
8) Pfaff, System der Materia medica. 1815. Vol. 4, p. 242.
9) Compt. rend. 68 (1869), 928.
With the Indians, sassafras was highly reputed as blood purifyer.3) Later the colonists used it in the preparation of their domestic remedies.
It is unknown when the distillation of sassafras oil had its beginning, though this was probably. at the beginning of the 19. century. This much at least is true that Joh. David Schcepf, an experienced physician and careful observer, who in 1783 and 1784 traveled through the Atlantic states of the Union alludes on several occassions in his reports to the wide distribution of the sassafras tree, but apparently has not heard of the distillation of sassafras.4)