Health Care Professional Information
Ague tree, saxifrax, cinnamonwood, saloop, smelling-stick
Derived primarily from the roots of the tree. There are no clinical data to support the use of sassafras, which contains safrole, a volatile oil that was shown to be carcinogenic in animal models. Diaphoresis, hot flashes, and sedation have been reported following administration of small doses.
Excessive doses can cause hallucinations, hypertension, and tachycardia.
Once used as flavoring agent in root beer and candies. Its use as food additive is now prohibited by the FDA due to its carcinogenic effect.
- Health maintenance
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Urinary tract disorders
- Volatile oils: Safrole, myristicin, L-hydroxy safrole
- Alkaloids: Boldine, cinnamolaurine
- Other constituents: Sitosterol, tannins, and lignans
Mechanism of Action
Unknown at this time. Safrole, a volatile oil, is a known carcinogen. L-hydroxy safrole can cause neurotoxicity and is believed to be carcinogenic as well.
Sassafras, containing safrole, has caused liver cancer in animal models and is classified as a carcinogenic substance. Risk increases with length of exposure and amount consumed. (5)
Common: Hot flashes and diaphoresis. (4)
Toxicity: Hallucinations, hypertension, tachycardia, liver cancer, and death. (2)
Barbiturates: Sassafras may have an additive effect.
- Newall C, et al. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.
- De Smet PA, et al. Adverse Effects of Herbal Drugs, Vol 3. New York: Springer; 1997.
- Brinker F, Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 2nd ed. Sandy (OR): Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.
- Haines JD. Sassafras tea and diaphoresis. Postgrad Med 1991;90;75-6.
- Safrole. Report on Carcinogens. http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/twelfth/profiles/Safrole.pdf. Accessed September 26, 2011.
- Foster S, et al. Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. New York: Haworth Herbal Press; 1999.
How It Works
Bottom Line: Because there is no evidence that it works, sassafras should not be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, infections, or any other medical condition.
Sassafras is a root extract. Scientists do not know of any positive biological effects sassafras might have. Some compounds found in sassafras have harmful effects: Safrole, a volatile oil, is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), while L-hydroxy safrole can damage the nerves.
There is no scientific evidence to support the claims below:
- To detoxify
- For general health maintenance
- To reduce inflammation
- To treat mucositis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat)
- To treat rheumatoid arthritis
- To treat sprains
- To treat syphilis
- To treat urinary tract disorders
Clinical trials have not been conducted to test the effects of sassafras.
- Sassafras is classified as a carcinogenic substance. It caused liver cancer in laboratory animals; the risk of developing cancer increases with the amount consumed and duration of consumption.
Do Not Take If
- You are taking barbiturates such as phenobarbital (Sassafras can have an additive effect).
- Hot flashes
- Profuse perspiration
- At toxic doses or with prolonged use, sassafras can cause hallucinations, high blood pressure, fast heart rate, liver cancer, and death.
- Sassafras was once used as flavoring agent in root beer and candies. The Food and Drug Administration has since prohibited the use of sassafras as a food additive due to its carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.
Last updated: September 29, 2012