Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sassafras albidum

I met my first sassafras plant today, a bit far a field, but still worth including in my catalog of intriguing local flora.

Our friends live on nearly 100 acres between here and West Virginia, and one of the kids was enterprising enough to identify and uproot a young sassafras plant.
I had of course heard of sassafras before and knew it had some relationship to root beer, but that first whiff of the roots was wild! Like sticking your nose in an A&W factory or something. Dee-lish-us.

I'd also heard of sassafras tea and there was much discussion of whether the girls would brew some up. Enthusiasm and maternal endorsement of the project waned fairly quickly, much to my dismay. But there were peas to weed, fruit trees to cage, chickweed plants to pop, and soon enough, hungry hordes to feed.

Turns out that sassafras roots and bark are the primary source of safrole, a weak carcinogen. Safrole is banned by the FDA for use in food, and root beer is now flavored artificially. The International Fragrance Association has also banned the use of safrole in soaps and perfumes.

Now, lest you begin to worry over-much, safrole also is found in things you have in your kitchen like cinnamon and basil and black pepper, and its consumption is believed to raise a person's overall risk of developing cancer as much as consuming tomatoes or orange juice does. (Which is to say, so little as to be not worth worrying about at all.) Also bear in mind that a study done in 1977 cast doubt on whether safrole is carcinogenic to humans (earlier studies were done on rats and the ban was enacted as a result of those rat studies).

Safrole may also be used in the manufacture of MDMA.

Should we start a movement to legalize safrole? I bet honest root beer is far better than the chemically flavored stuff we're drinking now...

Totally unrelated, but just as awesome as sniffing sassafras roots: Super groovy podcast to tap your toes to (Ne'ke, I'm looking at you!).... I went to high school with this guy - thanks FB.

1 comment:

Sensory Overload said...

Who knew that sassafras and its counterparts are such renegades? Thanks for sharing the information. I like gathering bits of tidbits such as this.

Thanks for sharing the super groovy podcast as well. I had a listen and noted the toe tapping, head bobbing with a groovy attitude attached.

As for the contact - feel free anytime Maggie to send a hello to the inbox at

Be well!