Health benefits of sassafras have been known to native Americans for centuries. The roots, leaves, and bark have been used in various forms to cure a number of ailments. As soon as the Europeans got to know about the various uses of this tree, its popularity soared all over the world.
The sassafras is a deciduous tree that grows to almost 35 meters in height. It has a good spread of about 20 meters. With smooth, slender branches, one of the interesting facts is that it is not only the bark, but the branches, roots, and leaves that were put to varied uses by the Native Americans.
A member of the Lauraceae family, the leaves and barks of the tree can be used to obtain essential oil through steam distillation. The root beer that was so popular with early colonists was made using the root of this tree only.
The leaves of this tree have a distinct aroma. It is used as a seasoning in various dishes and is also added to thicken soup. Some people dry the root of the tree, and then boil it in water with sugar to form a thick paste, which is used as a condiment.
To make the tea, roots or leaves of Sassafras tree are brewed in water for about 20 minutes. Lemon and sugar are also added by some, however, this is optional. Some even brew the root in maple syrup to make the tea. This can also be concentrated into a jelly instead of being consumed as a beverage.
The tea is believed to purify blood and to be a blood thinner. Hence, it finds use in treating high blood pressure. One of the benefits is that it helps in eliminating toxins from the body. It may also be useful as a diuretic. It's claimed that the leaves have active ingredients that help people who are affected by arthritis and rheumatic conditions.
The tea is also known to provide relief during cold and flu. It is believed to be effective in providing relief to those affected by bronchitis. The tea has shown good result in working against gastrointestinal problems, kidney ailments, and skin eruptions.
Despite its various uses, this tea may cause allergic reactions that will manifest as itching, inflammation of the skin, and difficulty in breathing. Other side effects include loss of mental balance, confusion, vomiting, and dip in body temperature etc. In case of any discomfort, discontinue the consumption of the tea and contact your physician immediately.
Controversy Over Health Benefits
The active ingredients of sassafras are safrole, tannins, mucilage, asarone, and alpha-pinene. However, there are some safety concerns regarding the consumption of safrole. This is something that has tainted the image of this tree which has been popularly used in the traditional medicines of the native Americans.
Experiments on mice reveal that safrole triggers liver cancer in the animals. It is feared that it may have the same effect in human beings. Hence, the FDA has banned sassafras tea and also the use of sassafras in foods and beverages.
However, herbalists are of the opinion that isolated experiments where purified compounds from the tree were injected into mice cannot be accurately relied upon to determine the toxicity of the plant. Nevertheless, many people do drink the tea.
However, prolonged consumption of the tea is generally discouraged. Also pregnant women, nursing mothers, and those with heart and kidney problems are advised against drinking this tea.
There are many who profess the health benefits of this tea. But due to the controversy surrounding safrole, it is always useful to do a thorough research before starting to drink this tea.