Sassafras albidum

The healing secret of this herb is its reported value in clearing toxins out of the bloodstream.

Other Names: Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Saxifrax,

The name Sassafras is said to be a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage.

Sassafras is a deciduous tree that grows 20 to 60 feet high. It prefers full to partial sun and average soils. The tree, which has berries like those of cinnamon, appears to have been cultivated in England some centuries ago. The fruit is a drupe or berry that is blue in color.

SassafrasThe central market for all parts is Baltimore. The entire root is official in the British Pharmacopoeia, but only the more active bark in the United States, where wood and bark form separate articles of commerce. The bark without its corky layer is brittle, and the presence of small crystals cause its inner surface to glisten. Both bark and wood have a fragrant odor, and an aromatic, somewhat astringent taste.

Sassafras as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

The medicinal parts are the essential oil of the root wood, the peeled and dried root bark, and the root wood. The taste is sweet and slightly astringent and the odor is pleasantly aromatic. Sassafras’ carcinogenic effect, however, has made its use inadvisable.

Long used as a medicinal, sassafras is also used as a flavoring for various pharmaceuticals and candies.

Sassafras root bark is used to thin the blood, to cleanse the liver, and is used to treat painful menstruation and the pains after childbirth. Do not use if anemic, taking a blood thinner, or when pregnant.

The fragrant oil distilled from the rootbark is extensively used in the manufacture of the coarser kinds of perfume, and for scenting the cheapest grades of soap. The oil used in perfumes is also extracted from the fruits. The wood and bark of the tree furnish a yellow dye.

Sassafras root bark extract is chiefly used for flavoring purposes, particularly to conceal the flavor of opium when given to children. In the United States it is employed for flavoring effervescing drinks.

The oil is also said to relieve the pain caused by menstrual obstructions and after childbirth. It’s administered in doses of 5 to 10 drops on sugar.

Sassafras is used as a local application for rheumatic pain, and it has been praised as a dental disinfectant.

One doctor, Dr. Shelby of Huntsville, stated that Sassafras would both prevent and remove the injurious effects of tobacco.

A lotion of rose-water or distilled water, with Sassafras Pith, filtered after standing for four hours, is recommended for the eyes.

Folk medicine: Sassafras is considered obsolete, but previously was used for disorders of the urinary tract. The herb, which was formerly an ingredient of “blood-cleaning tea,” has also been used for skin disorders, inflammation of the mucous membranes, rheumatism and syphilis.

Slave herb doctors relied on sassafras root and bark as treatments for colic, venereal disease, pain, fevers, high blood pressure, rheumatism, scrofula, and other ailments. Fontenot (1994) identified sassafras as being used by slaves in a general purpose tea for medical ailments including gallstones, clearing sinuses, and blood cleansing (Wichtl 2004).

To prepare an infusion, add 50 g of the drug to 1 liter of water. To prepare a tea, add 1 teaspoonful (3 g) of the drug to boiling water and strain after 10 minutes. A tincture is prepared using 200 parts coarse powder mixed with 100 parts diluted wine spirit.

Apart from its minor antiseptic qualities, no modern research supports the efficacy of sassafras for any of the medical ailments mentioned.

Culinary Uses of Sassafras

In Louisiana, the leaves are used as a condiment in sauces, and also for thickening soups; while the young shoots are used in Virginia for making a kind of beer.

Mixed with milk and sugar, sassafras tea, under the name of ‘Saloop,’ could, until a few years ago, be bought at London streetcorners in the early mornings.

The roots of Sassafras can be steeped to make tea and were used in the flavoring of root beer until being banned by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Subsequently, both Canada and the United States have passed laws against the sale of any consumable products (beverages, foods, cosmetics, health products such as toothpaste, and others) that contain more than specific small amounts of safrole. Animal studies showed liver damage.

Did You Know?

During the week of May 9th in 1876, the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition was opened and sassafras flavored Hires Root Beer was introduced to a thirsty nation.

In 1960, the FDA banned the use of sassafras roots and oil in root beer.


Safrole is a precursor for the clandestine manufacture of the drug ecstasy, and as such, its transport is monitored internationally.

The oil can produce marked narcotic poisoning, and death by causing widespread fatty degeneration of the heart, liver, and kidneys, or, in a larger dose, by great depression of the circulation, followed by a centric paralysis of respiration.

Its use has caused abortion in several cases.

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