Oil of sassafras is obtained by distillation from the root and root bark of Sassafras officinale, T. Nees and Eberm. (N.O. Laurineae), a native of North America. It is official in the U.S.P. It occurs as a pale yellow or reddish-yellow liquid, having the characteristic odour of safrol, and a warm aromatic taste. Specific gravity, 1.065 to 1.095 (1.060 to 1.090 at 25°); rotation, +1° to +4°. Adulteration with heavy camphor oil is frequent, and is exceedingly difficult to detect, since the camphor oil contains all the constituents found in sassafras oil. Its presence, however, is indicated by great variations in the physical properties. "Artificial sassafras oil" is said to contain fractions of camphor oil of a specific gravity approaching that of the genuine oil.
Soluble in all proportions of alcohol, the solution being neutral to litmus.
Constituents.—The chief constituent of the oil is safrol, C10H10O2, which is present to the extent of about 80 per cent., the body to which the oil owes its odour and chief and is properties. Most of the safrol may be separated from the oil by freezing. At ordinary temperatures it is a colourless liquid. Specific gravity, 1.100. Boiling-point, 232°. Optically inactive. At low temperature it is a white crystalline mass, melting at 8°. On oxidation it yields heliotropin (or piperonal), and is much used commercially for that purpose. By the action of alcoholic solution of potassium hydroxide it is converted into isosafrol. Safrol is also found in camphor oil, from which much of it is obtained. Other constituents of the oil are pinene and phellandrene, which together constitute about 10 per cent. of the oil; d-camphor, C10H16O, and a small percentage of eugenol, C10H12O2 (about 0.5 per cent.). A sesquiterpene, cadinene, is possibly also present.
Action and Uses.—Oil of sassafras is used in perfumery, and is a pleasant flavouring agent for dentifrice powders. It may be employed as a rubefacient and anodyne liniment in chronic rheumatism in the same manner as oil of camphor. It is also used as a parasiticide, but its use is not unattended with danger.
Dose.—6 to 30 centimils (0.06 to 0.3 milliliters) (1 to 5 minims).
The British Pharmaceutical Codex, 1911, was published by direction of the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.