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Sassafras Oil

Originating from the corruption of the Spanish word for "saxifrage"-- the name "Sassafras" was applied by the Spanish botanist Nicolas Monardes in the 16th century. The volatile Sassafras Oil, distilled from the bark of the root and leaves of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury), reaps multiple medicinal benefits of the plant to people. In fact, the intense flavor of sassafras tea is found to be enjoyed by many. However, the use of sassafras in food and beverages has been banned because it contains safrole. Thus, it is an oil believed to be carcinogenic. Further, this oil should be kept in well-stoppered bottles, protected from light.

The essential oil of sassafras is used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food (sassafras tea and candy flavoring), and for aromatherapy. The plant of sassafras is believed to be a nice yard plant as the smell emitted by it makes an excellent repellent for mosquitoes and other insects. The shoots of this plant are used to make root beer (formerly an alcoholic beer, however now a soft drink). The leaves of this plant are used for thickening sauces and soups. The dried powder is used as a spice for Cajun, Creole, and other Louisiana cooking. Its pith is used in the US to soothe eye inflammation and ease catarrh.
 
In the present times, the safrole extract is used by the chemical industry into two important derivatives: heliotropin (widely used as a fragrance and flavoring agent) and piperonal butoxide (PBO)- a vital ingredient of pyrethroid insecticides. Sassafras oil is used in numerous household fragrance applications such as floor waxes, polishes, soaps, detergents and cleaning agents. Its ability to blend with other oils and its powerful masking properties have made it valuable for such purposes.
Due to the high content of safrole in Sassafras oil, it is carcinogenic.
History of Sassafras

Being a native to Eastern North America and Eastern Asia, the sassafras tree (botanically called Sassafras albidum) is also called this region's "only native spice". Popular in folk medicine, it was also regarded by rural people as a spring tonic or blood purifier. On account of its peculiar smell pleasant aroma, in about 1860, oil of sassafras was distilled from the root-bark in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Today the oil is manufactured on a large scale in other states, including New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and the New England states.

Europeans got the idea that (Sassafras albidum, also known as Sassafras officinale, S. variifolium and Laurus sassafras) was a “wonder drug” that could cure almost anything, even the dreaded “new” disease syphilis which had appeared in Europe shortly after Christopher Columbus’ first return voyage. Even better yet, the belief somehow developed that (Sassafras albidum) would retard old age. Thus, in ancient herbal medicine, sassafras was used in the treatment of high blood pressure, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, menstrual, and kidney problems, and for skin complaints.
 

Oil Extraction
Belonging to the family Lauraceae, sassafras is a genus of two species of deciduous trees of the same family. The tree growing up to 40 meters (131 feet) high with many slender branches, a soft and spongy orange-brown bark and small yellow-green flowers, is rich of aromatic bark and wood. It is through the process of steam distillation that sassafras oil is extracted from the dried root bark chips. There are two important sassafras oils of commerce: Brazilian sassafras oil, obtained from the trunkwood of Ocotea pretiosa, and Chinese sassafras oil from Cinnamomum camphora. Both contain 80 percent or more of safrole.

Japan, Italy and the United States are the most important markets for the safrole oil or sassafras oil production (the latter being the largest market for applications other than derivative manufacture). These countries, along with some other minor manufacturers, then

export the heliotropin and PBO worldwide. The demand for sassafras oil is determined by the markets for heliotropin and PBO. Heliotropin consumption is increasing, particularly in Eastern Europe, Asia and some developing countries, and sassafras oil is the preferred raw material for its manufacture.

 

Applicable Benefits
Used as a tonic for blood by many, the main chemical components sassafras oil are safrole, 5-menthoxy-eugenol, asarone, coniferaldehyde, camphone and traces of thujone, anethole, apiol and eugenol. There are numerous benefits availed from this essential oil:

  • Sassafras oil remains an obvious choice for the purpose of aromatherapy, so as to enhance physical and mental well-being. It is used by herbalists in aromatherapy and medicinal purposes. The oil is also used to make spicy-sweet perfumes, candles and soaps.
  • For centuries, people have been using this oil as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. It serves as an effective treatment for rheumatism, breaking a tobacco habit, treating skin rashes and use as a stimulant. Centuries ago, in Europe, sassafras was used to treat syphilis.
  • Sassafras oil washed on the skin helps cure blemishes and is commonly used to treat many kinds of skin diseases.
  • The oil is known to assist in balancing the hormones in the body and aid the pituitary gland in releasing protein.
  • Sassafras oil stimulates liver action which clears toxins from the body making it an excellent treatment for all internally caused skin disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Further, it helps relieve pain brought on by inflammatory skin diseases and arthritic conditions, rheumatism and gout.

 

Precaution Note: Sassafras oil should never be used in aromatherapy, as it can be lethal if used incorrectly. Owing to its high content of safrole (80-90%), the oil is banned by the FDA because it is carcinogenic (cancer causing), and even a small quantity can be lethal.

 
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