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August 2, 1976

Sassafras and Herb Tea: Potential Health Hazards

Author Affiliations

From the College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacognosy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (Drs Segelman), Ciba-Geigy Corporation, Ardsley, NY (Dr Karliner), and Wallace Laboratories, Cranbury, NJ (Dr Sofia).

JAMA. 1976;236(5):477. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03270050033026

HOT WATER infusions (tea) prepared from the root bark of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum [Nut-tall] Nees [family Lauraceae]) have long been employed by the public as tonics as well as for a variety of unsubstantiated therapeutic purposes.

Extensive studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960 showed that safrole (4-allyl-1,2-methylenedioxybenzene), the major chemical constituent (eg, up to 80% by weight) of the aromatic oil present in sassafras root bark, was a hepatocarcinogen in rats. As a result, an order published in the Federal Register of Dec 3,1960, prohibited the use of safrole in foods.1 Prior to this regulation, safrole (up to 20 ppm) and safrole-containing sassafras extracts found wide use as flavoring agents especially in beverages such as root beer. Since that time, the hepatotoxic effects of safrole in animals have been reported and confirmed by numerous investigators.2

To be considered unsafe and hence