Sassafras Tea Benefits and Side Effects

Learn Potential Risks Before You Make Sassafras Tea at Home

Damiana Yohimbe Sassafras
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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 and health experts.

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 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.

Sources:

Sassafras. Memorial Sloan Kettering Integrative Medicine About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/sassafras

Sassafras. Therapeutic Research Center. Natural Medicines Database. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=674

Sassafras Root Bark Tea. Therapeutic Research Center. Natural Medicines Database. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/commercial-products/commercial-product.aspx?cpid=151759

Segelman, Alvin B. “Sassafras and Herb Tea. Potential Health Hazards” JAMA 236.5 (1976): 477.