PRODUCTION OF ESSENTIAL OILS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

IV. PRODUCTION OF ESSENTIAL OILS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


It appears that almost every important discovery in the history of the essential oils is connected with the oil of turpentine. The first large-scale production of an essential oil in the United States of America was that of oil of turpentine. There were, naturally, good reasons for this fact: the enormous areas covered by pine forests, especially in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, and the great and steadily growing demand for the oil at home, as well as abroad.
Although tar, pitch and common turpentine (the oleoresin) were mentioned as products of Virginia in official reports as early as 1610 (D. Hanbury in Proc. Am. Pharm. Assocn. 19 [1871], 491), the production of oil of turpentine in North Carolina and Virginia seems not to have started until the second half of the eighteenth century. One of the earliest authentic reports on the production of oil of turpentine in Carolina was given by the German physician and explorer, J. D. Schopf, in his book entitled "Reise durch einigo dor mittleren und sudlichen Vereinigten Nordamerikanischen Staaten in don Jahrcn 1783 und 1784," (Erlangen 1788, Vol. 2, 141, 247-252).
In the early nineteenth century, the production of other essential oils was started in the I'nited States and it is generally assumed that the oils of three indigenous American plants, of sassafras, of American wormseed (Chenopodinm anthelmtnticum L.) and of wintergreen (a closely related and similar oil can be obtained from the bark of sweet birch) were, in addition to oil of turpentine, the first oils to be produced in the United States of America. The oils of wintergreen and American wormseed have always boon hold in especially high esteem on the North American continent. It was by their introduction into the first ''United States Pharmacopoeia," published in 1820, that, for the first time, both oils were given official recognition. Of oil of wintergreen, Jacob Bigelow tells in his "American Medical Botany" (Boston 1818, Vol. 2, 31) that it is "kept for use in the apothecaries shops." No loss a person than the apothecary, William Proctor, Jr. called "The Father of American Pharmacy" identified the principal constituents of the oils from wintergreen (Gaulthcria procumbens L.) and from the bark of sweet birch (Betula lenta L.) already hinted at by Bigelow. The use of wintergreen oil for medicinal, cosmetic and flavor purposes has been nowhere so popular as in the United States, and yet there is no evidence whatsoever of a production of wintergreen oil on a commercial scale before or until shortly after 1800.
The same holds true as to the essential oil of American wormseed. Benjamin Smith Barton mentions the wormseed plant in his "Collections for an Essay Towards a Matcria Medica of the United States" (Philadelphia, 1798, 40 and 49) in the rubric "Anthelmintics." He states that "it is the seeds that are used" and does not mention the oil. James Thatcher in "The American
New Dispensatory" (Boston, 1810, 99) tells that "the whole plant may be employed" as an anthelmintic, and that "sometimes the expressed juice is used." In general, however, the seeds "are reduced to a fine powder, and made into an electuary with syrup." He repeats the same statement in the second and third editions of his book (1813 and 1817) ; and it was not until 1821, i.e., after the issuance of the U.S. P. 1820 listing Oleum chenopodii, that Thatcher, in the fourth edition of his dispensatory (pp. 173-174), added to the above cited text the following passage: "The essential oil of chenopodium or wormseed is found to be one of the most efficacious vermifuge medicines ever employed." Any large-scale production of American wormseed oil had in all probability not taken place before the twenties or even thirties of the nineteenth century. In the course of a controversy concerning the quality of the oil prepared from plants grown in Maryland and in "the western states" about 1850, we are told that "about twenty or thirty miles north of Baltimore, some fifty or sixty persons grow the plant in small or large patches on their land" for the production of essential oil (Am. J. Pharm. 22 [1850], 303).
Apparently there existed on the North American continent a large-scale production of oil of peppermint prior to any remarkable American preparation of the other essential oils mentioned. Until quite recently it was generally assumed that the distillation of American peppermint oil on a commercial scale had its origin in Wayne County, New York, in 1816. We know now that such an industry must have been in existence at least as early as 1800. In the booklet "150 Years Service to American Health," published by Schieffelin and Company, New York, in 1944, we are told of an offer of "homemade oil of peppermint" made by "Dr. Caleb Hyde, Physician and Druggist, Lenox, Berkshire, Mass." to Jacob Schieffelin, in 1805. The addressee answered as follows :
"The oils of peppermint and common mint has (sic) in consequence
of the large quantities made in the United States become
a mere drug in our market and no sale for it I have exported a
quantity it has lain for years in England without a purchaser
and I shall eventually become a loser thereby."

The oils of turpentine and of peppermint were not only the first essential oils to be produced on a commercial scale in the United States but they have been up to the present among those that rank first in the quantity produced. Others, such as oil of orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc., will be described elsewhere in this work.

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