Ague Tree, Bois de Cannelle, Cinnamon Wood, Common Sassafras, Kuntze Saloop, Laurier des Iroquois, Laurus albida, Saloop, Sasafras, Sassafrax, Sassafras albidum, Sassafras officinale, Sassafras variifolium, Saxifrax.
Sassafras is a plant. The root bark is used to make medicine.
Despite serious safety concerns, sassafras is used for urinary tract disorders, swelling in the nose and throat, syphilis, bronchitis, high blood pressure in older people, gout, arthritis, skin problems, and cancer. It is also used as a tonic and “blood purifier.”
Some people apply sassafras directly to the skin to treat skin problems, achy joints (rheumatism), swollen eyes, sprains, and insect bites or stings. Sassafras oil is also applied to the skin to kill germs and head lice.
In beverages and candy, sassafras was used in the past to flavor root beer. It was also used as a tea. But sassafras tea contains a lot of safrole, the chemical in sassafras that makes it poisonous. One cup of tea made with 2.5 grams of sassafras contains about 200 mg of safrole. That equates to a dose of about 3 mg of safrole per 1 kg of body weight. This is about 4.5 times the dose that researchers think is poisonous. So, in 1976, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that sassafras could no longer be sold as sassafras tea.
How does it work?
There isn't enough information available to know how sassafras works.
Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...
- Urinary tract problems.
- Skin problems.
- Eye swelling.
- Insect bites and stings.
- Purifying the blood.
- Other conditions.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).
Sassafras seems safe in foods and beverages if it is “safrole-free.”
However, it is UNSAFE for use as a medicine. Don't take it by mouth or put it on your skin. The safrole in sassafras root bark and oil can cause cancer and liver damage. Consuming just 5 mL of sassafras oil can kill an adult. Even “safrole-free” sassafras used in medicinal amounts has been linked with tumors.
Sassafras can cause sweating and hot flashes. High amounts can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and more severe side effects. It can cause skin rashes when used on the skin.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Don't use sassafras if you are pregnant. There is evidence that sassafras oil might cause a miscarriage.
Children: Sassafras is UNSAFE for children. A few drops of sassafras oil may be deadly.
Surgery: In medicinal amounts, sassafras can slow down the central nervous system. This means it can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. When combined with anesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery, it might slow down the central nervous system too much. Stop using sassafras at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Urinary tract conditions: Sassafras might make these conditions worse.
Sedative medications (CNS depressants)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.
Sassafras might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are called sedatives. Taking sassafras along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness.
The appropriate dose of sassafras depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for sassafras. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21. Part 182 -- Substances Generally Recognized As Safe. Available at: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=182
Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal, 4th ed., Binghamton, NY: Haworth Herbal Press, 1999.