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Sassafras

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Sassafras albidum (Nuttal) Nees, synonymous with S. officinale Nees et Erbem. and S. variifolium Kuntze. Family: Lauraceae

COMMON NAME(S): Sassafras, saxifras, ague tree, cinnamon wood, saloop

History

American Indians have used sassafras for centuries and told early settlers that it would cure a variety of ills. The settlers exported it to Europe, where it was found to be ineffective.

Over the years, the oil from the roots and wood has been used as a scent in perfumes and soaps. The leaves and pith, when dried and powdered, have been used as a thickener in soups. The roots are often dried and steeped for tea, and sassafras was formerly used as a flavoring in root beer. Its use as a drug or food product has been banned by the FDA as carcinogenic; however, its use and sale persist throughout the US. Medicinally, sassafras has been applied to insect bites and stings to relieve symptoms

Botany :- Sassafras is the name applied to 3 species of trees: 2 native to eastern Asia and 1 native to eastern North America. Fossils show that sassafras was once widespread in Europe, North America, and Greenland. The trees grow up to about 30 m in height and 1.8 m in diameter, though they are usually smaller. Sassafras bears leaves 10 to 15 cm long that are oval on older branches but mitten-shaped or three­lobed on younger shoots and twigs. All parts of the tree are strongly aromatic. The drug is obtained by peeling the root (root bark).

Uses of Sassafras

Sassafras has been used for eye inflammation, insect bites and stings, lice, rheumatism, gout, sprains, swelling, and cutaneous lesions but is now banned in the US, even for use as a flavoring or fragrance.

Side Effects of Sassafras

Besides containing a cancer-causing agent, sassafras can induce vomiting, stupor, and hallucinations. It can also cause abortion, diaphoresis, and dermatitis.

Dosage

The safety of long-term internal use of sassafras has not been proven. Only guaranteed safrole-free products should be consumed. Note that safrole-containing food products are illegal in the United States and Canada. Some sources suggest a dilute tincture can be used in the amount of 1 to 2 ml three times per day. Volatile oil of sassafras can be applied topically three times per day for lice, but should never be taken internally.

Toxicology

Sassafras oil and safrole have been banned for use as flavors and food additives by the FDA because of their carcinogenic potential. Based on animal data and a margin-of­safety factor of 100, a dose of 0.66 mg safrole per kg body weight is considered hazardous for humans; the dose obtained from sassafras tea may be as high as 200 mg (3 mg/kg).1.8 One study showed that even a safrole-free extract produced malignant mesenchymal tumors in > 50% of black rats treated. These tumors corresponded to malignant fibrous histiocytomas in humans.

Oil of sassafras is toxic in doses as small as 5 mL in adults. Ingestion of 5 mL produced shakes, vomiting, high blood pressure and high pulse rate in a 47-year-old female. Another case of a 1 tsp dose of sassafras oil in a young man also caused vomiting, along with dilated pupils, stupor, and collapse. There have been additional reports of the oil causing death, abortion, and liver cancer. Safrole is a potent Inhibitor of liver micro some hydroxylilting enzymes; this effect may result in toxicity caused by altered drug metabolism. Symptoms of sassafras oil poisoning in humans may include vomiting, stupor, lowering of body temperature, exhaustion, tachycardia, spasm, hallucinations, paralysis, and collapse. Additionally, sassafras can cause diaphoresis and contact dermatitis in certain individuals. A case study reported oil of sassafras in combination as a teething preparation, which resulted in false-positive blood tests for diphenylhydantoin in a 4-month-old child.

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