Sassafras Tea – 7 Best Health Benefits & Side Effects

Drinking sassafras tea can have several impressive health benefits such as detoxifying the body, breaking fevers, thinning the blood, strengthening the immune system, improving skin health, aiding respiratory health, and reducing inflammation, among others.

What is Sassafras Tea?

Sassafras tea is made from the root and bark of the sassafras tree, a deciduous flowering tree native to North America. The flavor of the tea is reminiscent of root beer, which is why many early recipes for the refreshing beverage include sassafras.

However, this tea also contains safrole, which is deemed to be a carcinogen. It is, therefore, not recommended for use by doctors, particularly in large quantities. Only very small doses of sassafras tea are recommended by herbal practitioners, who still use this plant, despite the proven risks. It has been banned in the United States. Even so, the tree is native to eastern North America and is still used in many areas of the world. [1]

Health Benefits of Sassafras Tea

While there are health risks to consuming an excess of sassafras tea, in moderate amounts it is known to have a positive impact on your liver, circulatory system, immune system, skin, lungs, respiratory tracts, and joints. Much of these benefits come from the volatile compounds in the tea, including alpha-pinene and antioxidant tannins. However, use of this tea should be monitored carefully, and should only be prepared in the right concentrations. If you begin to feel any adverse side effects, discontinue use immediately. [2]

Immune System

Sassafras tea has been traditionally used in small amounts to treat the symptoms of cold and flu. It can help reduce nasal congestion and relieve inflammation in the sinus cavities and throat. [3]

Skin Health

The antibacterial and antiseptic properties of this tea make it effective for skin health. It can aid in the elimination of eczema, psoriasis, and other inflammatory issues when consumed in low to moderate amounts.

Detoxify the Body

As a liver stimulant, sassafras tea can help the body to sweat and detoxify faster, which can further eliminate toxins through the skin. This tea also functions as a great diuretic, meaning that it speeds up urination, which is when excess toxins, fats, salt, and water can be flushed out of the body. For this reason, sassafras tea is also known to boost kidney health when consumed responsibly. [4]

Benefits of sassafras tea

Sassafras tea has a distinct flavor, which is reminiscent of root beer. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Break Fevers

One of the classic uses of this tea is for stubborn fevers that don’t seem to break. Traditional medicine practitioners have been relying on the anti-inflammatory properties of sassafras tea for generations when they need to break a fever and start the healing process.

Improves Digestion

Small amounts of sassafras tea can help ease digestion by reducing inflammation in the gut and digestive tracts, while also helping regulate your bowel movements, meaning that it can eliminate both diarrhea and constipation. [5]

Improves Circulation

Sassafras tea has an anticoagulant nature to it that helps with thinning the blood, making it less likely for you to suffer from blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. While this can be dangerous if you are planning on having surgery or are recovering from an injury, keeping your bloodstream clot-free is usually a very good thing. [6]

Inflammatory Problems

People who suffer from gout, joint disorders, and other chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, can benefit from the detoxifying and stimulant nature of sassafras tea. When consumed responsibly, this tea can relieve pain and discomfort very effectively. [7]

How to Make Sassafras Tea?

Sassafras tea can be prepared quite easily at home, and only requires sassafras root, a pot of boiling water, and a strainer, as well as honey or sweetener to enhance the flavor. Take a look at the recipe below.

Side Effects of Sassafras Tea

    There are a number of serious side effects that can result from drinking sassafras tea, including the following: [10]

    • Sweating
    • High blood pressure
    • Vomiting
    • Rashes
    • Hallucinations
    • Chronic diseases
    • Liver damage
    • Miscarriages

    Safrole, one of the primary active ingredients in sassafras, is known to be a carcinogen, meaning that it could increase your risk of cancer. In fact, concentrated sassafras oil and sassafras extract can be significantly harmful when consumed in even moderate quantities. While sassafras tea is not nearly as strong, it is still quite powerful, and long-term use is not encouraged.

    Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children should avoid using sassafras tea, as it can cause miscarriages for pregnant women, and can cause severe side effects in children.

    If you are having surgery, drinking sassafras tea can be very dangerous. It slows down the nervous system, which provides some of its health benefits. But in conjunction with anesthesia, the amount of safrole found in this tea can give way to major complications, and even prove fatal.

    Only use sassafras tea in extremely limited quantities, and only with permission from a trained medical practitioner, who can ensure that it won’t have negative interactions with any other prescriptions or medications you may be using.

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    — Update: 30-12-2022 — found an additional article Sassafras Tea Benefits and Side Effects from the website for the keyword benefits of sassafras tea.

    If you like root beer, you might enjoy sassafras tea. Sassafras was originally used to flavor the popular soda. The benefits of sassafras are widely reported on the internet. But not all of these advantages are supported by scientific evidence—even if you make natural sassafras tea at home. And there are significant health warnings that you should be aware of if you choose to drink this tea.

    What Is Sassafras Tea?

    Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a relatively small, ornamental, deciduous tree that is native to Missouri but grown across the eastern United States. The tree has distinctive greenish-yellow blossoms that appear in April or May. But it is the roots and the root bark (or peeled root) that are used for medicinal purposes. Roots may be dried and used for tea and were formerly used as the flavoring for root beer.

    People who learn how to make sassafras tea at home may use either the leaves or parts of the root. It is prepared as many traditional herbal teas are prepared, pouring hot water over the leaves and allowing them to steep.

    You can also buy commercially-prepared sassafras tea bags or concentrate. Some of these products will state that they use “sassafras flavor” rather than sassafras in the making of the tea. Others will state that the sassafras used in the tea is “safrole-free.”

    Safrole is found in certain parts of the sassafras tree and has caused significant concern among researchers. In animal studies, safrole has been shown to cause liver cancer and is classified as a carcinogenic substance. Risk increases with length of exposure and amount consumed.

    Sassafras Tea Risks and Side Effects

    The volatile oil—or rapidly evaporating essential oil— found in the roots of the sassafras tree contains safrole. Safrole has been classified as a Substance Generally Prohibited From Direct Addition or Use as Human Food. Concerns about safrole became significant after studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s showed that safrole caused cancer in rodents. At that time, sassafras was used to flavor root beer. Since the 1970s, sassafras root can only be used as a flavoring if the safrole has been removed.

    Some health experts (most notably, Dr. Andrew Weil) still say that drinking sassafras tea is probably safe in moderation. However, other health organizations advise caution, stating more specifically that your cancer risk increases with the length of exposure and the amount consumed.

    Less notably, sassafras may also cause hot flashes or sweating.

    Sassafras Tea Health Benefits

    The health benefits of sassafras tea are reported to be numerous. The tea (and sassafras, in general) has a long history of medicinal use. Native Americans reportedly believed that sassafras was a miracle cure and promoted the tonic to European explorers who were less impressed with it.

    The purported benefits of sassafras include:

    • Improved urinary tract health
    • Reduced symptoms of arthritis
    • Clearer skin and eyes
    • Treatment of sprains
    • Reduced itching or swelling from bug bites or stings
    • A boost in immune health
    • Improved circulation
    • Reduced symptoms of gout
    • Improved digestion
    • Reduced fevers

    Although you probably won't find medical doctors (and many other health providers) promoting the use or benefits of sassafras tea, some herbal practitioners still use it, believing that it is safe to consume in moderation. However, none of these reported benefits has been proven with high quality, published scientific research. The effectiveness of sassafras cannot be confirmed because the health concerns over sassafras make human research unlikely.

    A Word From Verywell

    Just because a product contains an ingredient that may cause cancer in humans or that has been shown to cause cancer in rodents, doesn't mean that it necessarily will cause cancer in you if you choose to consume it. But there are many alternatives to sassafras tea that may provide the same flavor and taste that you enjoy without the potential for harm.

    If you enjoy herbal tea, consider teas made from chrysanthemum or jasmine. You might also enjoy a cup of mint tea. Different types of tea provide different benefits—many which have been documented in scientific studies. Explore the various types to find one that you enjoy.

    — Update: 30-12-2022 — found an additional article Sassafras: Beneficial Natural Remedy or Dangerous Drug? from the website for the keyword benefits of sassafras tea.

    Benefits of sassafras tea

    Unlike the Urban Dictionary listing states, sassafras does not refer to dripping sarcasm. It’s actually a type of tree that grows in North America and East Asia, providing a pleasant aroma — and a great deal of folk medicine remedies.

    Over 38 years ago, however, sassafras in its pure form was outlawed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from foods, beverages and other products due to the health risks associated with one of the three main compounds found in it, called safrole. (1)

    Today, sassafras trees grow freely and are still used in many homes to make sassafras tea or homemade sassafras root beer. More concerning is the practice many now have of creating essential oil from the bark of this tree for the purposes of creating dangerous sassafras drugs, MDA (street name “sassafras”) and MDMA (commonly known as “ecstasy”).

    Even though these facts might be discouraging, you may be surprised to know that regular research is conducted on the benefits of sassafras to the human body. There are reports of some incredible prospects for the use of this folk remedy. (2)

    Let’s look at the research behind the good, the bad and everything in between to unearth what sassafras can truly do.

    What’s in Sassafras?

    The name is actually a genus of tree encompassing three living and one extinct species of tree. Generally, when you hear people refer to it, they are most likely referring to , grown widely in North America.

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    Functioning more like an herb, sassafras does not contain notable calories or vitamins. The bark contains three major compounds: methyleugenol, safrole and camphor. (3)

    Fascinatingly, all three of these compounds are considered carcinogens in some respects. On the other hand, all three of them can positively impact the human body in some ways.

    The only one of these three that is not permitted for use within the U.S. (and several other countries) is safrole. Safrole does occur naturally in a variety of food products, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, but the amounts found are so negligible that these products are still considered safe for FDA standards. (4)

    Camphor was taken off the market during the 1980s due to these same safety concerns but reintroduced in the early 1990s as an approved ingredient.

    Although it’s not commercially produced in the U.S., sassafras tea and sassafras root beer are still homegrown favorites in many areas where the trees are found.

    The Benefits of Sassafras

    1. May Be an Effective Treatment for Certain Cancers

    The compounds in sassafras, though considered carcinogens in some ways, have been the subject of anticancer research for some time.

    Most notable of these is safrole. Safrole has been found to have potentially destructive effects against the following types of cancer:

    • Gastric cancer (5)
    • Liver cancer (hepatoma) (6)
    • Leukemia (7, 8)
    • Tongue cancer (9)
    • Oral cancer (10)
    • Breast cancer (11)
    • Prostate cancer (12)
    • Osteosarcoma (a rare bone cancer) (13)
    • Lung cancer (14)

    Meanwhile, the camphor may potentially protect against the spread of colon cancer. (15)

    The methods by which cancer cells are killed are complex, but it seems that one reason compounds like safrole cause cell death in some cancers might be the way they target the “endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition,” shortened as EndoMT. (16)

    EndoMT is a complicated biological process that has only recently been studied for the way it may impact the spread of fibrotic disorders like cancer. (17) Safrole induces the EndoMT process and might be a new way to help treat cancer.

    Although this research does not definitively prove that these compounds “cure” any cancer, the results are significant in the fight to develop natural cancer treatments.

    2. Treats Parasitic Disease

    Sassafras could potentially be a treatment for leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease in tropical and subtropical climates as well as southern Europe. When an extract from bark is used on leishmaniasis parasites, it seems to be able to kill the parasites without negatively affecting the nearby cells. (18)

    3. Might Help Manage Diabetes

    On a diabetic diet plan, I have seen people successfully reverse this chronic condition just by adjusting what they eat and drink.

    At least one study on rats, conducted at Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology in India, suggests safrole from sassafras bark might be as effective as current drug therapies for managing diabetes, as it improves the blood sugar levels and insulin resistance characterized by diabetes. (19)

    4. May Interact Positively with Some Pharmaceuticals

    Although I generally recommend avoiding conventional medicine for many conditions that can be controlled through dietary means, there are situations in which you may choose to use them for a particular reason.

    If this happens, there are some “convoy” substances suggested in traditional Persian medicine that can cause your body to more efficiently metabolize drugs or foods. It seems that  can help increase the absorption of certain medications or food items. (20)

    Inversely, one of the chemicals in sassafras, methyleugenol, may interact positively in the body to decrease the effectiveness of certain poisons, according to research published in Archives of Toxicology. (21)

    5. Natural AChE Inhibitor

    Two newly discovered compounds in sassafras function as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChE inhibitors), as noted in research from Yulin Normal University in China. (22) While some of these chemicals can cause serious damage, the class sassafras falls into is known as “reversible,” which means it can have some therapeutic benefits.

    One of the most common medical uses of AChE inhibitors includes Alzheimer’s treatments. They are also used in some cases to treat glaucoma, poisoning and schizophrenia. (23)

    6. Promising Topic in the Treatment of Epilepsy

    Since anti-seizure medications often have problematic side effects, scientists are working to develop different treatment methods, including some using natural compounds that might have seizure-stopping potential.

    Safrole seems to inhibit lactate dehydrogenase, which is one of the mechanisms doctors try to prevent seizures in epilepsy. (24)

    7. Could Improve Circulation

    Camphor, also found in sassafras, seems to have the ability to improve blood circulation and allow more cold and warm feeling sensations to return. Researchers at the School of Nursing at Asahikawa Medical University applied petroleum jelly containing 5 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent camphor or 2 percent menthol separately to nine adult participants. The researchers concluded, “The present results indicate that camphor induces both cold and warm sensations and improves blood circulation.” (25)

    Benefits of sassafras tea

    Potential Dangers of Sassafras

    1. May Cause Liver Cancer

    Over and above any other potential problem with sassafras, research has focused on the potential carcinogenic capacity of the compounds in it.

    It’s a controversial topic. When studying rat and mice models, researchers have found that both safrole and methyleugenol cause malignant liver tumors. (26, 27) Pure safrole injection seems to be the most potent cancer-causing method.

    That’s the main reason why the FDA outlawed safrole from food, beverage and cosmetic products in 1979. However, the story doesn’t truly end there, and many believe the reports on safrole toxicity to be quite exaggerated. The reasoning they offer comes from various sources.

    For one, a study all the way back in 1977 showed that the metabolites found in rats after developing these cancerous liver tumors aren’t found in humans given the approximate dose. (This, of course, occurred before safrole usage was forbidden.) (28)

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    Second, there’s a difference in injecting a pure extract of a chemical compound into a body and consuming much smaller amounts of that compound through the diet. (29)

    Proponents of sassafras usage have stated that this ban is not consistent with other legal substances. In one report, the claim was made that one can of old-fashioned root beer, made with pure sassafras, would be considered 1/14th as carcinogenic as a can of regular beer due to alcohol content. (30)

    Rat and mouse models aren’t always the best predictors of disease, since not everything that causes diseases like cancer in them will have the same impact on humans. It’s just a starting point scientists use for research.

    Since the research is so inconsistent (remember above where I referenced the studies where sassafras compounds actually may help prevent certain cancers?), others have compared the differences in dosage that are considered “carcinogenic” in animals.

    For example, for mice, it takes only about 51 mg/kg/day to induce cancer. This means that a mouse weighing somewhere around 25 grams would need to be consume or be injected with about 1.3 milligrams of safrole to reach a point where cancer occurs 50 percent of the time. However, the amount to induce cancer in rats is almost nine times higher.

    Even using the most conservative estimates (from the mouse model), assuming the numbers compared exactly the same from mice to humans, an average-sized male would have to consume over 4500 milligrams of safrole every day to reach the “carcinogenic” threshold. (31) For comparison, a cup of homemade sassafras tea contains around 200 milligrams of safrole.

    Some reports are even more extreme in what they find causes cancer, claiming it takes up to 1,000 mg/kg/day in rats to induce cancer. (32) The amount of safrole that equates to in a human body would be astronomical and virtually impossible to take in on a regular basis.

    Still, the FDA found it prudent to ban safrole from products in relatively small amounts.

    There are those who claim this was because of the “two birds with one stone approach” — as the government focuses efforts in fighting the war on drugs, eliminating commercial sources of safrole makes it that much harder for people to illegally produce MDMA (ecstasy) or its similar counterpart, MDA (sassafras drug). By getting rid of a potential carcinogen, the FDA also removed a possible illegal drug source.

    2. Could Negatively Influence Heart Conditions

    There’s a chance sassafras could be dangerous for those suffering from heart disease. At least one report out of China shows that sassafras oil containing safrole could increase “plaque vulnerability,” meaning the potential of plaque stores in the arteries or veins to rupture. (33)

    If this were to happen, the presence of safrole could cause an interruption in plaque within the body and possibly contribute to cardiac events like heart attack or stroke.

    3. Unsafe for Pregnant Mothers

    Multiple sources, including WebMD, claim sassafras has caused spontaneous abortion in some pregnant mothers. Therefore, it is never recommended to consume sassafras while pregnant. (34)

    4. May Negatively Interact with Sedatives

    While some medications can benefit from sassafras supplementation, taking it is doubly unsafe when consumed with sedatives.

    5. Other potential risks

    Sassafras has also been reported to cause other side effects, including: (35)

    • Vomiting
    • Stupor
    • Hallucinations
    • Diaphoresis (excessive sweating, usually in connection with drugs)
    • Dermatitis (when used topically)

    It’s interesting to note that these are similar side effects to those associated with MDA and MDMA, the two illegal drugs made from sassafras essential oil containing safrole.

    History and Interesting Facts

    Sassafras has been used for centuries to treat multiple conditions ranging from blood purifications to stomach complaints, particularly by various Native American tribes. Some folk medicine techniques involved creating sassafras tea to treat liver, kidney and chest problems.

    Others suggest using the essential oil from the bark as an antiseptic, lice treatment and insect bite remedy. (36)

    In the United States, sassafras trees have been grown since 1630 for the medicinal benefits of its leaves, bark and wood. The soft but durable nature of the bark makes it a good candidate for boat construction, according to the USDA. (37)

    As I pointed out, the sassafras tree has been used to create both the sassafras drug and ecstasy for illegal drug use. (38) The DEA has made it illegal for anyone to possess or distribute safrole if there is any indication it may be used illegally.

    The sassafras drug (as well as ecstasy or “Molly”) has been implicated in various overdose deaths and is considered a very addictive substance. (39)

    Final Thoughts on Sassafras

    • The sassafras tree has been grown for centuries in North America and parts of Asia, revered for its claims for health.
    • In 1979, the FDA outlawed safrole, one of the three major compounds in sassafras, because of the potential carcinogenic properties it could have.
    • Now, it can still be used to flavor things such as sassafras root beer as long as the safrole has first been extracted.
    • Many people still create homemade sassafras tea or root beer from nearby trees but aren’t legally allowed to sell or distribute it in any way.
    • Pure sassafras has some significantly powerful health benefits associated with it in research, including cancer treatment, diabetes management, parasite-fighting capability and more.
    • Sassafras is also linked with some serious health risks, such as liver cancer and damage, cardiovascular risks, risks in pregnancy, and others.
    • The safrole found in sassafras is used to create sassafras essential oil that criminals use to create two dangerous hallucinogenic drugs, MDA (sassafras drug) and MDMA (ecstasy).

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    About the Author: Tung Chi