This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
The sassafras, Sassafras officinale, T. Nees and Ebermayer (N.O. Laurineoe), is a tree of medium size, widely distributed over the eastern United States, extending from Canada southwards to Florida.
All parts of the plant secrete in special cells an aromatic volatile oil, but this is especially the case with the bark of the root.
The tree produces large, woody, branching roots covered with a dark reddish or greyish brown spongy bark, from which, however, they are often entirely freed, the bark constituting in America a separate article of trade, and realising, on account of its greater fragrance, a higher price than the wood. The latter is greyish yellow or greyish red in colour, soft, and easily cut; it exhibits in transverse section distinct annual rings traversed by thin, dark, medullary rays and containing large vessels. Both bark and wood, but especially the former, have an agreeable, fragrant odour, and an aromatic, slightly astringent taste.
The root contains about 2 per cent. of volatile oil, which is obtained from it by distillation, and employed in large quantities as a perfume and flavouring agent; its chief constituent is safrol (80 per cent.). The bark yields from 6 to 9 per cent. of oil.
Sassafras is supposed to increase the action of the skin in syphilis and rheumatism, and thus to be an alterative, but its physiological action is not definitely known.