Drugs A - Z
Sassafras (Sassafras spp.)
Generic Name: Sassafras extract
CategoryHerbs & Supplements
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.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: 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.
TraditionWARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. 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 healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Anticoagulant (blood thinner), antifungal, diaphoretic (promotes sweating).
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.
SafetyDISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
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
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, and was peer-reviewed and edited by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): J. Kathryn Bryan, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Nicole Giese, MS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).
BibliographyDISCLAIMER: 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.
Haines JD, Jr. Sassafras tea and diaphoresis. Postgrad.Med. 9-15-1991;90(4):75-76.
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.
Klepser TB, Klepser ME. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Am J Health Syst.Pharm 1-15-1999;56(2):125-138.
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.
Segelman AB, Segelman FP, Karliner J, et al. Sassafras and herb tea. Potential health hazards. JAMA 8-2-1976;236(5):477.
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.
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.
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.