What Happened to Sassafras Tea?

Once well known and now banned by the FDA; here is a look at what happened to the main ingredient of root beer.

Out of of 25 or more natural health books consulted, only two referred to sassafras. The beautiful and fragrant tree has much to offer, however, research indicates it is not recommended for consumption.

One online source gives us two different expected growth heights on their web page. First it states the shade tree can grow 20 feet high, but is usually shorter in the south, and in another paragraph it states “The Sassafras Shade Tree usually has better success if its saplings are container-grown. The Sassafras Shade Tree is a tall, beautiful native tree that grows anywhere from 30-60 ft. tall.”

The tree is remarkable in that the beautiful multicolored leaves can be one to three lobes even on the same tree.

    Picture source

  • It is fragrant.

  • Was once used as a main ingredient in root beer

  • Was once used to treat soldiers ailments, but was reported to create highs and hallucinations

  • Grows throughout Easter U.S., Canada, and Texas. (zone 5)

  • Today because of safrole, found in sassafras, the FDA regulates the use.

  • Although the deer nibble on the leaves they do not consume enough to cause concern.

Here is a young sapling. Check out the leave formations. Just as they advised, some leaves have one lobe, some two and some three.

Picture source

The American Horticultural Society created a book called Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening: Herbs and Spices. This book states although the sassafras tree likes a warm and sunny location it will grow almost in any soil, requires little water, and will grow well in the north. It should be propagated from seeds, suckers or root cuttings. The roots and bark are used in scented potpourri, dried and powdered leaves in gumbo, and the roots in tea.

The Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) grows in a pyramid shape and can reach more than 60 feet. In the spring it will bloom with small yellow flowers and light green leaves. It will then bear blue fruit on red stalks and the leaves will change to yellow, orange and bright red in the fall.

Though the roots were once used to flavor root beer, the oils contained in them contain a carcinogen. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs tells us that the tree has given us three wonderful aromas which are used in perfumes and soaps – Florida Forest Trees:

  1. The roots smell like root beer

  2. The leaves smell of citrus

  3. The wood smells of a medicine (used to treat athlete’s foot).

The tree was one of the first trees exported from the New World. Its tea was well known to our first settlers and highly recommended for its flavor and healing properties. It was once used to treat a variety of ailments from spasms to syphilis, but because testing on rodents showed the consumption to cause liver cancer it was outlawed for sale in 1960. It still boasts healing properties when used externally as the root bark contains antiseptic properties.

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  1. Thanks for explaining sassafrass so well. I had no idea it made root beer.
    Is it still the most expensive spice in the world?

  2. Nice Writing and sharing Good & informative Piece. Thanks and Cheers.


  3. Patiann, It is no longer sold for consumption in the U.S. I believe saffron is the most expensive spice. “Genuine saffron is only grown in India and an ounce can run between $200 and $300 dollars.”

    Thanks for your support. Thanks also Sunita.

    Take care & God bless.

  4. Sister, you’ve researched this topic on sassafrass so well. I’m sure this will keep people aware of this tea. Well done and I clicked you “liked it”

  5. I haven’t heard of this before, Judy..Great information, and wonderful article. Learn something new today..

  6. Well written, I really liked.

    Emmie x

  7. I always gain so much education from your well presented articles. Thank you for the in depth information here.

  8. Great info shared here, Judy. Thank you.

  9. Chan, Icy, Roberta, and Giftarist, your support is much appreciated.

    Take care & God bless!

  10. Emmie, thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  11. I’ve gotten tea extract at Kroger. I love it. I remember my mom extracting the juice from the bark.

  12. Good Post.

  13. Pam, I love the root beer flavor, but root beer is now made without sassafras. Thanks for the comment.

    VTech, thanks for reading.

    Take care & God bless.

  14. Nice to read your Article, Keep writing more about it. Is is really Gracefully and very well written skill. Thanks for sharing.


  15. Sara, thank you for your warm support. Take care & God bless.

  16. Great info on sassafras. SU’d.

  17. educational and informative,thanks Judy

  18. I honestly do not believe that sassafrass causes cancer. I am from Kentucky, and everyone I have ever known has always drank sassafrass tea. It’s a beautiful, dark red tea with a heavenly aroma and taste. On a cold winter day, there’s nothing better! I am perfectly healthy and have drank sassafrass tea as long as I can remember and will continue to drink it when I can get my hands on the roots because the liquid concentrate is just not the same! If I could grow my own tree, I would!

  19. I want to thank you for explaining this to us too. I wasn’t familiar with Sassafras tea at all until now.

  20. Susan, you probably could grow your own. The tests were conducted on rodents. The book did not state how much they consumed, but the results convinced the FDA to ban it from sale. I love natural products and it is difficult for me to believe it (sassafras) is harmful. Thanks for reading. I would love to know more. I find this type of research fascinating.

    CA, I would like to taste it at least. I believe it must taste some what like root beer? Thanks so much for your support.

    Take care & God bless.

  21. I was inspired from this article and wrote another article about the benefits of Sassafras tea..

    This is my article if you want to read;

  22. Interesting article!

    It’s a precursor to some drugs too.

  23. Sweet girl, since writing this I have come across Sassafras tea concentrated liquid in a local health store. It has the safrole removed.

    Tmrobotix, I am certain that it was. Thanks for your comment.

  24. Informative, I had no idea the claims that this tea was in anyway harmful. Like Susan, I have drank this since I was a small girl, my mom would dig up roots from some trees on our farm and brew the tea. My sister still lives on the farm, I think I’ll ask her for a start from the tree and try to grow my own.
    Love the tea, it’s so light and refreshing.

  25. Pattiann, how is it I did not notice your question until now? I believe you are referring to saffron. Karen, I noticed sassafras is now being sold again, so they must have removed the carcinogen from it.

  26. I have alot on my land and would like to make tea.Still if dear and other animals eat it how can it be bad for you?I have read alot of stuff on it but no real expert opinoin. So hear I go I will try it and let you know.

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