Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: sassafras from Philip's Encyclopedia

Small E North American tree with furrowed bark, green twigs, yellow flowers and blue berries. Oil from the roots is used to flavour root beer. Family Lauraceae; species Sassafras albidum.


Summary Article: SASSAFRAS
from Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics

Source: Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees [syn. S. officinale Nees et Eberm.; S. variifolium (Salisb.) Kuntzel] (Family Lauraceae).

Common/vernacular names: Common sassafras.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

An aromatic deciduous tree with leaves ranging in shape from three-lobed to two-lobed to unlobed; up to about 40 m high; native to eastern United States from Maine to Florida and west to Michigan and Texas. Part used is the dried root bark.

Safrole-free sassafras extract is obtained by dilute alcoholic extraction of the bark followed by concentrating under vacuum, diluting the concentrate with water, and separating and discarding the oily fraction.1

CHEMICAL COMPOSITION

Contains 5-9% volatile oil, about 0.02% alkaloids (boldine, norboldine, isoboldine, cinnamolaurine, norcinnamolaurine, and reticuline), two lignans (sesamin and desmethoxyaschantin), sitosterol, tannins, resin, and starch (CLAUS).2

The volatile oil contains safrole (80-90%) as the major component. Other compounds present include α-pinene, α-and β-phellandrenes, methyleugenol, 5-methoxyeugenol, asarone, piperonylacrolein, apiole, coniferal-dehyde, camphor, myristicin, thujone; l-menthone, caryophyllene, elemicin, copaene, anethole, and eugenol, among others.3–5

PHARMACOLOGY AND BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES

Sassafras and its oil have been reported to have carminative and diaphoretic properties. The oil also reportedly has anti-infective and pediculicide (lice destroying) activities (MERCK).

Safrole is a hepatotoxin that has produced hepatomas (liver tumors) in laboratory animals (GOSSELIN; LEWIS AND ELVIN-LEWIS).4–7

Safrole is a strong inhibitor of human cytochrome P450 enzymes.8

TOXICOLOGY

Sassafras tea has been associated with clinical diaphoresis with hot flashes.9

USES

Food. Sassafras, its extracts, and oil were formerly extensively used in flavoring root beer; this use has been discontinued. Only safrole-free bark extract is reported used in nonalcoholic beverages and in candy, with average maximum use levels of 0.022% and 0.015%, respectively. As most of the flavor is removed along with safrole, these uses of the safrole-free extract are rather limited.

Dietary Supplements/Health Foods. Bulk sassafras is readily available; usually labeled "not for internal use". Popularity as a "spring tonic," continues in the Ozarks and Appalachians, where fresh root is available in the produce section of supermarkets in spring (FOSTER).

Traditional Medicine. Sassafras is traditionally used in treating bronchitis, highblood pressure of elderly people, rheumatism, gout, arthritis, skin problems, and kidney problems, among others, usually as a tea or infusion, used both internally and externally.

Sassafras has also been used in cancers.10

Others. Safrole present in sassafras oil is used as a starting material for the synthesis of heliotropin (piperonal), an important fragrance and flavor chemical.

COMMERCIAL PREPARATIONS

Crude, oil, and safrole-free extract. Crude and oil were formerly official in N.F.

Regulatory Status. only safrole-free sassafras extract (§172.580) and safrole-free sassafras leaves and extracts (§172.510) have been approved for food use. Safrole, sassafras and sassafras oil are prohibited from use in foods (§189.180)11

REFERENCES

See the General References for BAILEY 1; BARNES; CLAUS; DER MARDEROSIAN AND BEUTLER; FEMA; FOSTER; FOSTER AND DUKE; KROCHMAL AND KROCHMAL; LUST; MCGUFFIN 1 & 2; MORTON 1; SARGENT; TERRELL; TYLER 1-3; UPHOF.

  • 1. Anon., Fed. Regist., 27, 9449 (1962).
  • 2. Chowdhury, B. K. et al., Phytochemistry, 15, 1803 (1976).
  • 3. Kamdem, D. P. and Gage, D. A., Planta Med., 61, 574 (1995).
  • 4. Sethi, M. L. et al., Phytochemistry, 15, 1773 (1976).
  • 5. Segelman, A. B. et al., J. Am. Med. Assoc., 236, 477 (1976).
  • 6. Homburger, F. et al., Arch. Pathol., 73, 118 (1962).
  • 7. Borchert, P. et al., Cancer Res., 33, 575 (1973).
  • 8. Ueng, Y. F. et al., Food Chem. Toxicol., 43, 707 (2005).
  • 9. Haines, J. D., Postgrad. Med., 90, 75 (1991).
  • 10. Hartwell, J. L., Lloydia, 32, 247 (1969).
  • 11. Anon., Fed. Regist., 41, 19207 (1976).
Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article SASSAFRAS
Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals

[ Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees] HISTORY Sassafras was a common tonic and herb of many native North American Indian tribes for the...

Full text Article Sassafras
The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients

Sassafras albidum Sassafras is an aromatic, ornamental tree native to the eastern US, from Maine to Florida. Native Americans showed early...

Full text Article SASSAFRAS
Cambridge World History of Food

The spicy bark of both the trunk and roots of the North American tree Sassafras albidum is dried and used for flavorings. Sassafras tea has...

See more from Credo