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Sassafras

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  • Botanical: Sassafras albidum
  • Family: Lauraceae
  • Hits: 615
Sassafras

Botanical

Sassafras albidum

Family

Lauraceae

Known as

White Sassafras, Red Sassafras, Silky Sassafras, Sassafrasbaum, Fenchelholzbaum, Nelkenzimtbaum

Old Use

medical, culinary, industry

Parts Used

bark, leaves

Medicinal

abdominal pain, asthma, bronchitis, blood cleansing, bronchitis, colds, coughs, eye inflammation, rheumatism

Heart & Circulation

blood cleansing

Respiratory System

asthma, colds, cough

Stomach & Intestinal

abdominal pain, cancer, constipation, flatulence, gastrointestinal

Properties

antiseptic, anti inflammatory, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant

Description

It is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 15–20 m tall, with a trunk up to 60 cm diameter, and a crown with many slender branches. The bark on trunk of mature trees is thick, dark red-brown, and deeply furrowed. The branching is sympodial. The shoots are bright yellow green at first with mucilaginous bark, turning reddish brown, and in two or three years begin to show shallow fissures. The leaves are alternate, green to yellow-green, ovate or obovate, 10–16 cm long and 5–10 cm broad with a short, slender, slightly grooved petiole. They come in three different shapes, all of which can be on the same branch; three-lobed leaves, unlobed elliptical leaves, and two-lobed leaves; rarely, there can be more than three lobes. In fall, they turn to shades of yellow, tinged with red. The flowers are produced in loose, drooping, few-flowered racemes up to 5 cm long in early spring shortly before the leaves appear; they are yellow to greenish-yellow, with five or six tepals. It is usually dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees; male flowers have nine stamens, female flowers with six staminodes (aborted stamens) and a 2–3 mm style on a superior ovary. Pollination is by insects. The fruit is a dark blue-black drupe 1 cm long containing a single seed, borne on a red fleshy club-shaped pedicel 2 cm long; it is ripe in late summer, with the seeds dispersed by birds. The cotyledons are thick and fleshy. All parts of the plant are aromatic and spicy. The roots are thick and fleshy, and frequently produce root sprouts which can develop into new trees.

Properties & Uses

Sassafras has a long history of herbal use. It was widely employed by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide range of complaints, valuing it especially for its tonic effect upon the body. It is still commonly used in herbalism and as a domestic remedy. The root bark and root pith are alterative, anodyne, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and vasodilator. A tea made from the root bark is particularly renowned as a spring tonic and blood purifier as well as a household cure for a wide range of ailments such as gastrointestinal complaints, colds, kidney ailments, rheumatism and skin eruptions. The mucilaginous pith from the twigs has been used as a poultice or wash for eye ailments and is also taken internally as a tea for chest, liver and kidney complaints. An essential oil from the root bark is used as an antiseptic in dentistry and also as an anodyne. The oil contains safrole, which is said to have carcinogenic activity and has been banned from use in American foods - though it is less likely to cause cancer than alcohol. In large doses the oil is poisonous, causing dilated pupils, vomiting, stupor, collapse and kidney and liver damage. The oil has been applied externally to control lice and treat insect bites, though it can cause skin irritation.

Other Uses

An essential oil is obtained from the bark of the root and also from the fruits. One hundred kilos of root chips yield one litre of essential oil under steam pressure - this oil comprises about 90% safrol. The oil is medicinal and is also used in soaps, the coarser kinds of perfumery, toothpastes, soft drinks etc. It is also used as an antiseptic in dentistry. A yellow dye is obtained from the wood and the bark. It is brown to orange. The plant repels mosquitoes and other insects. Wood - coarse-grained, soft, weak, fragrant, brittle, very durable in the soil. It weighs 31lb per cubic foot and is used for fence posts and items requiring lightness.

Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves can be added to salads whilst both old and young leaves can be used as a flavouring and as a thickening agent in soups etc. They have a mild aromatic flavour. The leaves are often dried and ground into powder for later use. The young shoots have been used to make a kind of beer. The dried root bark can be boiled with sugar and water until it forms a thick paste. It is then used as a condiment. The root and the berries can also be used as flavourings. Winter buds and young leaves - raw. A tea is made from the root bark, it is considered to be a tonic. The tea can also be made by brewing the root in maple syrup, this can be concentrated into a jelly. A tea can also be made from the leaves and the roots. It is best in spring. A tea can be made from the flowers

Cautions

The extracted essential oil is poisonous in large quantities. The essential il contains safrole which is known to be carcinogenic and potentially harmful to the liver. The essential oil has been banned as a food flavoring in America, even though the potential toxicity is lower than that of alcohol

Distribution

It is native to eastern North America, from southern Maine and southern Ontario west to Iowa, and south to central Florida and eastern Texas

Constituents

The root-bark contains a heavy and a light volatile oil, camphorous matter, resin, wax a decomposition product of tannic acid called Sassafrid, tannic acid, gum, albumen, starch, lignin and salts. Sassafrid bears some analogy to cinchonic red. The bark yields from 6 to 9 per cent of oil, of which the chief constituent is Safrol (80 per cent). It is one of the heaviest of the volatile oils, and when cold deposits four- or six-sided prisms of Sassafras camphor, which retain the odour. It should be preserved in well-stoppered, amber-coloured bottles, away from the light. Three bushels of the root yield about 1 lb. Safrol has been found to be one of those bodies which can exist either in a solid or a liquid condition long after freezing or melting-point. Chemically, it has been found to be the methylene ether of allyl-dioxibenene. It is found in many other species, is now commercially extracted from oil of Camphor, and could possibly be obtained from some members of the Cinnamomum family. Physiologically and therapeutically it is equivalent to oil of Sassafras.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.