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Sassafras

Uses

Botanical names:
Sassafras albidum

Parts Used & Where Grown

Sassafras is native to eastern North America. It is a tree that can grow up to 90 feet tall, and it has distinctive three-fingered mitten-shaped leaves, as well as other leaf shapes. The inner bark of the root is used medicinally and in the preparation of beverages.

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Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:

Used for Why
1 Star
Head Lice
Apply a cream containing 20% seed oil to the hair and wash out three hours later
Traditional herbalists recommend applying oil of sassafras to treat head lice.

Traditional herbalists recommend applying oil of sassafras topically three times per day for lice, but this has never been tested in a clinical study.4

1 Star
Rheumatism
Refer to label instructions
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries sassafras was used as a diaphoretic (a substance that causes sweating) and diuretic plant, primarily for relieving rheumatism and fevers.
Eclectic physicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries considered sassafras a useful diaphoretic (a substance that causes sweating) and diuretic plant, primarily for relieving rheumatism and fevers, and as part of the treatment of urinary tract infections.5

Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)

Sassafras was used by Native Americans for many purposes, primarily for infections and gastrointestinal problems.1 Sassafras was one of the first and largest exports from the New World back to Europe as a beverage and medicine.2 Commercially, the pleasant tasting volatile oil was valued as a flavoring agent in root beer and similar beverages. Eclectic physicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries considered sassafras a useful diaphoretic (a substance that causes sweating) and diuretic plant, primarily for relieving rheumatism and fevers, and as part of the treatment of urinary tract infections.3

How It Works

Botanical names:
Sassafras albidum

How It Works

The volatile oil of sassafras is believed to be the major active constituent of the plant. This oil contains up to 85% of the terpenoid known as safrole.6 Safrole causes liver cancer when given to laboratory animals in high doses for long periods of time.7 Sassafras bark, sassafras oil, and safrole are currently prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from use as flavorings or food additives. Human studies are lacking to verify the efficacy of sassafras for any condition. However, one case study has been published showing that sassafras acted as a diaphoretic in an otherwise healthy woman.8 While the amount of sassafras that could potentially cause cancer in humans remains unknown, one cup of strong sassafras tea is reported to contain as much as 200 mg of safrole, an amount that is four times higher than the amount considered potentially hazardous to humans if consumed regularly.9

How to Use It

The safety of long-term internal use of sassafras has not been proven. Only guaranteed safrole-free products should be consumed. Note that safrole-containing food products are illegal in the United States and Canada.10 Some sources suggest a dilute tincture can be used in the amount of 1 to 2 ml three times per day.11 Volatile oil of sassafras can be applied topically three times per day for lice, but should never be taken internally.12

Interactions

Botanical names:
Sassafras albidum

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

At the time of writing, there were no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.

Interactions with Medicines

As of the last update, we found no reported interactions between this supplement and medicines. It is possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.

Side Effects

Botanical names:
Sassafras albidum

Side Effects

Safrole causes liver cancer if given to laboratory animals “in high doses and for extended periods of time.”13 This requires metabolism of safrole by the liver into other toxic compounds, though the liver also removes some of these compounds for excretion through the urine.14 , 15 The overall risk of sassafras causing cancer in humans is thought to be low because it is only weakly active and the amounts normally consumed are low.16 To eliminate the risk, sassafras products that contain safrole should not be consumed.

Safrole and its toxic metabolites do cross the placenta and enter breast milk in laboratory animals, and thus sassafras should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.17

References

1. Vogel VJ. American Indian Medicine. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970:361–5.

2. Vogel VJ. American Indian Medicine. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970:361–5.

3. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed, 2 vols. Portland OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983:1730–1.

4. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990:230.

5. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory, 18th ed, 2 vols. Portland OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1898, 1983:1730–1.

6. Kamdem DP, Gage DA. Chemical composition of essential oil from the root bark of Sassafras albidum. Planta Med 1995;61:574–5.

7. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997:152–4.

8. Haines JD Jr. Sassafras tea and diaphoresis. Postgrad Med 1991;90:75–6.

9. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. New York: Haworth Press, 1999; 337–9.

10. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997:103–4.

11. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990:230.

12. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990:230.

13. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997:152–4.

14. Luo G, Guenthner TM. Metabolisms of alklylbensene 2’,3’-oxide and estragole 2’,3’-oxide in the isolated perfused rat liver. J Pharm Exp Ther 1995;272:588–96.

15. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997:152–4.

16. Enomoto M. Naturally occurring carcinogens of plant origin: Safrole. Bioactive Mol 1987;2:139–59.

17. Vesselinovitch SD, Rao KV, Mihailovich N. Transplacental and lactational carcinogenesis by safrole. Cancer Res 1979;39:4378–80.

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