sassafrass poisonus??

redring(zone 5)August 8, 2008

A friend of mine has a woods by her house and there full of sassafrass. I adore the tee. She said was welcome to take as much as I wanted so I went out and got some roots. When I tried to research what I could do with it and how I would make my tea I read lots of old remadies useing it but I also read its poisonus. Now Im not sure I should use it. Dose anyone here collect there own sassafrass?

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The problem is that safrole (found in especially high concentration in sassafras roots) is thought to be toxic and potentially carcinogenic, which is why sassafras root is no longer allowed in root beers. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of human studies, and some herbalists don't appear too concerned about human toxicity from sassafras root.

At a very minimum, I'd suggest not drinking a lot of this tea, and it's not a good idea at all for pregnant or nursing women.
Dried sassafras leaves (used in gumbo recipes) are considered pretty safe.

The tree itself is one of our most beautiful natives in fall, and should be grown more.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 9:44PM
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redring(zone 5)

thanks for the advice!!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 11:38PM
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You would have to drink a forest of sasafras to get a carcinogenic amount. I HATE this type of herbal bs because it's based on BAD--not to mention OLD-- science and because any time I need the oil I have to fill out a DEA form. You can buy dried sassafras from reputable herb companies. If you wildcraft, please be responsible & take only what you need at the time. Best collection time is in the early, just-thawed spring when the sap is rising. NEVER gird the tree-- it will kill it. Thanks.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 3:39AM
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While as I mentioned earlier there's controversy over how much risk is associated with consuming sassafras, I've never seen anything to suggest that you'd "have to drink a forest of sassafras" to get a carcinogenic dose. Cautious people would at a minimum want to keep their exposure low.

Here's what the highly respected herbalist Varro Tyler had to say about sassafras:

"An overriding consideration in this entire matter of the safety and efficacy of sassafras is that the plant material has no really significant medical or therapeutic utility. Sassafras oil, in common with large number of volatile oils, does possess some mild counterirritant properties on external application, but beyond these, none of the claims of its supporters has been documented in the modern medical literature. Despite its pleasant flavor and its folkloric reputation as a useful tonic, prudent people will avoid this drug because of its potentially harmful qualities."

Some more comments and references can be found here.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 8:22AM
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Hi Redring,
"More recent studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, however, found that it took a dose of 2,350 mg to reach a "toxic endpoint" (that is, where 50 percent of the animals died) in mice, which puts safrole in the "slightly toxic" category....Powdered sassafras leaves are still sold as file, a thickening spice for gumbo, and are categorized as "generally recognized as safe," according to FDA spokesman Mike Herndon, because they dont contain a significant amount of safrole.(

Since it is the root bark that contains safrole I would research ways to make the remedy without the bark, or using a minimum of the bark.

What were you hoping to make with it, other than tea? The Native Americans used the leaves to make tea, and the bark as a cooking spice, so maybe you could ask your friend if you can gather some leaves for your tea. I've heard of the young leaves being added to salads too.

Here's one reference:

And here's one on making ground file powder from the leaves. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 9:44AM
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Whoops, missed my last link:

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 1:46PM
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The troble with planting sassafras trees is that they have a very deep tap root; I've tried unsuccessfully a couple of times to dig up a small one to transplant.

Additionally, although they make a beautiful tree in the more Northern zones, in warmer climates they can apparently spread underground, particularly if someone tries to cut down the origional tree. They also apparently get much larger the further South you go; I've been in forums where people really hate them and unsuccessfully try to eradicate them.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 3:45PM
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"Hi Redring,
"More recent studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, however, found that it took a dose of 2,350 mg to reach a "toxic endpoint" (that is, where 50 percent of the animals died) in mice, which puts safrole in the "slightly toxic" category...."

Of course, the amount of safrole that must be consumed to result in death is not the "toxic endpoint" that people have been concerned about. What's been an issue is the carcinogenic effect of safrole, which may be demonstrated with a much, much smaller dose.

A cup of sassafras tea every once in a while might not be a problem. Frequent consumption and use of the oil could be a different story. Knowledge of potential risks and benefits is a good idea.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2009 at 4:50PM
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The "amount of safrole that must be consumed to result in death is not the "toxic endpoint" that people have been concerned about..."

Actually, deaths have occurred from safrole and toxicity is a major concern, especially when using the bark or oil. The carcinogenic effect of safrole is also a concern for those drinking the tea regularly, however; the risk is difficult to measure. People have drank sassafras tea since before the Europeans arrived and there is not an abundance of cases of liver cancer due to sassafras.

Studies by Dr. James Duke and Steven Foster indicate that the safrole in a 12-ounce can of old-fashioned root beer is not as carcinogenic as the alcohol (ethanol) in a can of beer.

Alcohol also causes liver damage... Avoid over-use. As with beverages other than water...moderation is key...

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 12:02PM
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"People have drank sassafras tea since before the Europeans arrived and there is not an abundance of cases of liver cancer due to sassafras.

Anecdotes don't tell us anything one way or another. Bear in mind also that life spans were much shorter in colonial and pre-colonial days, and carcinogenesis often takes many years to develop. Those dying from malnutrition or infectious disease before middle age didn't get cancer (that we know of); it doesn't mean the substances they were consuming were safe on a chronic basis.

Duke and Foster did not do any human studies comparing root beer and alcoholic beer. And safrole has potential carcinogenic effects on other organs besides the liver.

Acute toxicity of sassafras products has only been a concern to my knowledge with use of the oil.

""It is estimated that a few drops of sassafras oil are sufficient to kill a toddler and as little as one teaspoonful has proved fatal in an adult. Symptoms of poisoning are described as vomiting, stupor, and collapse. High doses may cause spasms followed by paralysis. Large amount of the oil are reported to be psychoactive with the hallucinogenic effects lasting for several days." (Newall)"

I agree, moderation is a good idea when dealing with sassafras tea or file gumbo. The other "key" is: what benefits of consumption justify even a small risk? As we've seen, the benefits of sassafras tea as a "spring tonic" are pretty dubious. There are plenty of herbal teas with no known potential risks of this kind.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 12:29PM
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List of known carcinogens in food

Here is a list of some carcinogens in food.

"* Acrylamides are compounds that are created when starchy foods are subjected to high heat. The best example of a process in which these are formed is frying potatoes. Tests on rats in Sweden showed that when deep fried potato and starchy foods cooked at high temperatures were fed to the animals, many of them developed cancer. Researchers from Stockholm University and Sweden's National Food Administration found acrylamide was formed when carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes, rice or cereals were heated. The study said that an ordinary bag of crisps may contain up to 500 times more of the substance than the top level allowed in drinking water by the WHO. It also showed that the chemical is found in high carbohydrate foods like bread and potato products which are common in many people's diets.

So far there is no proof that the foods would have the same harmful effects on humans. In the mean time, it probably would be best to not give your children that bag of chips or fries.

* Nitrosamine is a carcinogenic compound created when we digest meats that contain sodium nitrite. Earlier, this chemical was added to meats to preserve them, today, manufacturers use it because it imparts a healthy pinkish hue to the meat. Almost all processed meats, pickles, smoked foods, cheese, beer and tinned fish contain sodium nitrate.

* Tannins occur widely in plant foods and we ingest them daily in tea, coffee, and cocoa. Tannic acid has caused liver tumors in experimental animals, and may be linked to esophageal cancer in humans.

* Cycad plants, important food sources in tropical regions, contain cycasin and related azoxyglycosides that were found to cause liver and kidney tumors when fed to rats.

* Safrole, which is a liver carcinogen in rats, is found in sassafras tea, cinnamon, cocoa (trace), nutmeg, and other herbs and spices. However, these are consumed in trace amounts by most people, which are probably not enough to cause cancer.

* Black pepper was found to be carcinogenic to experimental mice. Pyperadine and alpha-Methylpyrroline are secondary amines in black pepper which can be transformed to N-nitrosopiperadine, a strong carcinogen.

* Trans Fats in order to increase the shelf life of vegetable oils, manufacturers partially hydrogenate them, ie heat the oils in the presence of hydrogen and metal catalysts. Hydrogenation saturates fats by adding more hydrogen atoms, thereby increasing their melting point (which makes them good for baking) and prolonging their shelf life. However, this process also creates trans fats, which are neither necessary, nor good for health. Trans fats promote heart disease by increasing levels of `bad cholesterol, interrupt metabolic processes, and cause belly fat that crowd the organs and strain the heart. Latest evidence shows that when consumed in excess, trans fats may cause cancers. According to the FDA, trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. [1]. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fats you eat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.

* Pesticide residues get on to our plates if the fruit and vegetables we eat have not been properly washed. There is growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects. In one study, conducted in 1992 at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and published in the Archives of Environmental Health, women with breast cancer had 50 to 60 percent higher concentrations of pesticides in their breast tissue than women who did not have breast cancer. These chemicals can increase estrogenic activity and suppress immune function."

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 12:58PM
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I think the problem is that there is not an adequate comparison to how much safrole oil is in the leaf in proportion to the stem and root. Of course there is likely to be quite a bit in the roots in comparison to the leaves and stems; however, what is that amount in comparison to the toxic 2000+ mg that was given to the rats? Furthermore, in the 72 week period in which the rats were given STRAIGHT safrole, how much was given and at what dose? Also keep in mind that 72 weeks is roughly a year and 5 months of constant injest of the oil.

Once again, this is problematic when attempting to grasp just how much is too much...according to one site, the amount of safrole typically leached through tea is simply.9 mg; and the total maximum of safrole in the leaf is only 3 mg. (

2350/3= 783. You would have to injest 783 sassafras leaves in order to get to that toxic level as mentioned in the study WITH THE ASSUMPTION and worst case scenario of all of the leaf's safrole seeping into the tea...

In any case, i'm just trying to grasp the proportion. If cinnamon and nutmeg also have safrole, it wouldnt hurt to compare and contrast how much is in each. In any case, ive totally strayed off my study. I am supposed to be looking for potential health benefits of sassafras tea, and stumbled upon this very interesting thread, and i now have a question to research...

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Right on simplemary! The voice of much appreciated

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 8:49PM
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Hello. I know this is years behind but figured I'd add a quick point for any future readers of this post. Sassafras trees have been used in cooking for generations by native Americans and then passed on to the creole people in southern Louisiana. Gumbo file is ground leaves and I've been eating that regularly for 40 years. Not significant amounts of the oils that the poor lab mice were filled with for months until they developed cancers, primarily of the liver. The bark of the roots has a higher amount of these oils. From my research it seems this sassafras oil is used to make drugs. So any commercially bought leaves, tea, bark is illegal unles this oil is free of the safrole. Gathering your own for tea leaves this oil and there is a marked difference in the quality and taste of your cuisine. Only because they manufactures have to process out the oils to keep people from trying to make drugs. In looking at the amounts of these oils the mice were given you would have to ingest quite a bit of tea to make you sick.
That is just my opinion after trying to figure out why my gumbo file was changed in the 80s and it took me several years to figure out why.
Any one harvesting their own leaves and bark for cooking should research the studies and make up their own mind if they agree with the findings.
Well I'm off to learn more about growing my own plants and herbs. Finally got enough ground of my own.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2015 at 12:12AM
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