Sassafras (Sassafras spp.)
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.
Brazilian sassafras, Chinese sassafras, Lauraceae (family), Ocotea pretiosa, red sassafras, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees, Sassafras randaiense (Hayata) Rehd., Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl., silky sassafras, Taiwan sassafras, tzumu (Chinesese), white sassafras.
The genus Sassafras contains two main species, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees and Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl. Sassafras albidum is found in eastern North America, and Sassafras tzumu (Hemsl.) Hemsl. is found in Asia, primarily in China.
Although sassafras was used originally in Native American medicine, sassafras should not be used internally, as safrole found in sassafras oil and tea is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Increased incidence of esophageal cancer has been noted in areas with habitual sassafras consumption. In addition, safrole is hepatotoxic (liver damaging).
There is insufficient evidence in humans to support the use of sassafras for any indication.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
No available studies qualify for inclusion in the evidence table.
*Key to grades:A: Strong scientific evidence for this use; B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use; D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work); F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Anticoagulant (blood thinner), antifungal, diaphoretic (promotes sweating).
The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
Adults (18 years and older):
There is no proven safe or effective dose for sassafras in adults.
Children (younger than 18 years):
There is no proven safe or effective dose for sassafras in children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to Sassafras species, their constituents, or members of the Lauraceae family.
Side Effects and Warnings
Safrole found in sassafras oil and tea is carcinogenic (cancer causing). Increased incidence of esophageal cancer has been noted in areas with habitual sassafras consumption. In addition, safrole is hepatotoxic (liver damaging), and may inhibit some cytochrome P450 pathways. Sassafras may also have a diaphoretic (promotes sweating) side effect.
Use cautiously in patients taking drugs or herbs metabolized by the cytochrome P450 pathways, as safrole may be a potent inhibitor of several of these pathways.
Avoid in patients with compromised liver function.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Avoid sassafras tea and oil if pregnant or breastfeeding as they are considered carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
Interactions with Drugs
Although not well studied in humans, the aryl-sulfonamide compounds found in safrole may induce platelet aggregation. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders, and in those taking agents to either clot or thin the blood.
Safrole may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be increased in the blood, and may cause increased effects or potentially serious adverse reactions. Patients using any medications should check the package insert, and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Although not well studied in humans, the aryl-sulfonamide compounds found in safrole may induce platelet aggregation. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders, and in those taking herbs or supplements that may either clot or thin the blood.
Safrole may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of other herbs or supplements may become too high in the blood. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements possibly have on the P450 system.
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
Haines JD, Jr. Ipecac, Indian turnip, and sassafras: a sampling of American Indian medicine. J.Okla.State Med.Assoc. 1996;89(9):326-327. View Abstract
Haines JD, Jr. Sassafras tea and diaphoresis. Postgrad.Med. 9-15-1991;90(4):75-76. View Abstract
Kapadia GJ, Chung EB, Ghosh B, et al. Carcinogenicity of some folk medicinal herbs in rats. J Natl.Cancer Inst. 1978;60(3):683-686. View Abstract
Klepser TB, Klepser ME. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Am J Health Syst.Pharm 1-15-1999;56(2):125-138. View Abstract
Lima LM, Ormelli CB, Brito FF, et al. Synthesis and antiplatelet evaluation of novel aryl-sulfonamide derivatives, from natural safrole. Pharm Acta Helv 1999;73(6):281-292. View Abstract
Segelman AB, Segelman FP, Karliner J, et al. Sassafras and herb tea. Potential health hazards. JAMA 8-2-1976;236(5):477. View Abstract
Simic A, Sokovic MD, Ristic M, et al. The chemical composition of some Lauraceae essential oils and their antifungal activities. Phytother.Res 2004;18(9):713-717. View Abstract
Ueng YF, Hsieh CH, Don MJ. Inhibition of human cytochrome P450 enzymes by the natural hepatotoxin safrole. Food Chem Toxicol 2005;43(5):707-712. View Abstract
Ueng YF, Hsieh CH, Don MJ, et al. Identification of the main human cytochrome P450 enzymes involved in safrole 1'-hydroxylation. Chem Res Toxicol 2004;17(8):1151-1156. View Abstract
Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.
March 22, 2017