Herbs & Plants (Spices)

Atherosperma moschatum

Botanical Name: Atherosperma moschatum
Family: Atherospermataceae
Kingdom: Plantaeids
Order: Laurales
Genus: Atherosperma
Species: A. moschatum

*Atherosperma moschatum Labill.
*Atherosperma elongatum Gand.
*Atherosperma integrifolium A.Cunn. ex Tul.

Common Namers: Black Sassafras, Southern sassafras, Black Leaf Sassafras

Habitat: Atherosperma moschatum is native to the temperate rainforests of central and northern New South Wales, Australia. In 2006, it was recognised as a separate subspecies by Richard Schodde. It grows in temperate rainforests and moist gullies up to the sub-alpine zone.

The southern sassafras is a shrub or a small tree, growing from 1 to 30 m tall. The trunk is not buttressed and somewhat cylindrical. The bark is fairly smooth with bumps and lenticels, often also marked with moss and lichen. Young shoots and new growth are noticeably hairy. It is a scented and beautiful tree, especially when in flower.

Its leaves are narrower than the more southern form of A. m. subsp. moschatum, and many of the leaves are entire, though some small prickles grow on a minority of leaves. Leaves are opposite on the stem, 8 cm long, 1 cm wide, white underneath, glossy above, and veiny. They are pleasantly scented when crushed.

The 1889 book ‘The Useful Native Plants of Australia records that “The fragrant bark of this tree has been used as tea in Tasmania. A decoction or infusion of the green or dried bark was made, and according to Mr. Gunn, it has a pleasant taste when taken with plenty of milk. Its effect is, however, slightly aperient. It is also used in the form of a beer. The bark contains an agreeable bitter, of much repute as a tonic amongst sawyers. It is called Native Sassafras from the odour of its bark, due to an essential oil closely resembling true sassafras in odour. Bosisto likens the smell of the inner bark to new ale, and says that a decoction from this part of the tree is a good substitute for yeast in raising bread. It is diaphoretic and diuretic in asthma and other pulmonary affections, but it is known more especially for its sedative action on the heart, and it has been successfully used in some forms of heart disease. It is prepared of the strength of 4 ounces of the bark to 20 ounces of rectified spirit, and is given in doses of 30 to 60 drops, usually on a lump of sugar. The volatile oil of the bark alone is said to have a lowering action on the heart. See “Volatile and Essential Oils.” The bark has been examined by N. Zeyer, who has found in it volatile oil, fixed oil, wax, albumin, gum, sugar, starch, butyric acid, an aromatic resin, iron-greening tannic acid, and an alkaloid which he designates atherospermine.


Requires a rich well composted lime-free soil in full sun or semi-shade. Succeeds in acid and neutral soils. Plants are not very hardy in Britain, requiring greenhouse treatment in most areas, but they succeed outdoors in a woodland garden in the milder areas of the country. Another report says that plants are fairly hardy when grown in a sheltered position. A tree at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens is 3 metres tall and flowers annually, whilst there are trees 6 metres tall in Cornwall. Plants can tolerate short-lived frosts to about -5°c if they are well sited and sheltered from cold drying winds. Plants come into flower when they are quite young. All parts of the plant are aromatic. The flowers diffuse a sweet perfume whilst the nuts have a musk-like fragrance similar to nutmegs. Dioecious, male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

Edible Uses:
A pleasant tasting tea is made from the fresh or dried aromatic bark. Some caution is advised in its use, see the notes on toxicity at top of the page.

Medicinal Uses:
Antiasthmatic, antirheumatic, aperient, cardiac, diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative, tonic. A powerful poison, it is useful in treating rheumatism, syphilis and bronchitis.

Other Uses:
An essential oil is obtained from the plant, it is used medicinally. Wood – tough, close grained, fairly soft, low in tannin. Used for cabinet making, turnery etc.

Known Hazards: The bark contains a potential carcinogen. Another report says that the whole plant might be poisonous.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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