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Medicinal Trees: Sassafras

 
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Sassafras was once widely used in Herbal Medicine, and its export to Europe was among the first major industries in the North American colonies. Amy Stewart writing in The Drunken Botanist, mentions, “In 173, sassafras was described in an early history of the colonies as being used to ‘promote perspiration, to attenuate thick and viscous humours, to remove obstructions, to cure the gout and the palsy,’ Godfrey’s Cordial, a popular 19th century cure-all, included molasses, sassafras oil and laudanum, an opium tincture.” Unfortunately, it has fallen out of use. The reasoning for this is due to government over-reach and (in my opinion) seriously flawed reasoning.

Frankly, I trust hundreds of years of trial and error by real people far more than I do scientists whose findings are based on giving outrageous amounts of highly concentrated substances to mice, that would have no practical equivalent in real world, human use. I use Sassafras. The old folks in the Appalachian Mountains, many of whom live to be around 100 years old and maintain health and vigor far longer than their “modern” counterparts, consider Sassafras a “Spring tonic”. It is believed to cleanse the blood after a long winter of being stuck inside, breathing wood and coal smoke and eating preserved foods. They believe it strengthens immunity. I believe in their wisdom.

Mrs. Grieve listed the medicinal properties of Sassafras as:

Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative. It is rarely given alone, but is often combined with guaiacum or sarsaparilla in chronic rheumatism, syphilis, and skin diseases.

The oil is said to relieve the pain caused by menstrual obstructions, and pain following parturition, in doses of 5 to 10 drops on sugar, the same dose having been found useful in gleet and gonorrhoea.

Safrol is found to be slowly absorbed from the alimentary canal, escaping through the lungs unaltered, and through the kidneys oxidized into piperonalic acid.

A teaspoonful of the oil produced vomiting, dilated pupils, stupor and collapse in a young man.

It is used as a local application for wens and for rheumatic pains, and it has been praised as a dental disinfectant.

Its use has caused abortion in several cases.

Dr. Shelby of Huntsville stated that it would both prevent and remove the injurious effects of tobacco.

A lotion of rose-water or distilled water, with Sassafras Pith, filtered after standing for four hours, is recommended for the eyes.


Brother Aloysius wrote of Sassafras:

Sassafras is a tree that grows in North America. The bark and wood are used medicinally and have stimulating, diuretic, diaphoretic properties. Sassafras is recommended for catarrh, rheumatism and gout, scrofulous skin conditions, scurvy and dropsy. The decoction contains 1 tablespoon per 2 cups water. Dosage: 1 cup daily.

Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests states:

Sassafras (Laiirus).—Whilst engaged in active duties as Surgeon to the Holcombe Legion, whenever a soldier suffered from measles, pneumonia, bronchitis, or cold, his companion or nurse was directed to procure the roots and leaves of Sassafras, and a tea made with this supplied that of Flax Seed or Gum Arabic, The leaf of the Sassafras contains a great amount of mucilage.

After the conquest made by the Spaniards in Florida sassafras was used in the treatment of syphilis, the warm infusion being applicable in cutaneous disease, by acting on the emunctories. The root is employed in the Carolinas in combination with guaiac, sarsaparilla, and China briar, (Smilax.') in the formation of diet drinks. It is diaphoretic and diuretic, useful in rheumatism, and Alibert speaks highly of it in gout. The pith of the young branches, according to Eberle, contains a great deal of mucilage; which is " an exceedingly good application in acute ophthalmia, and no less useful in catarrhal and dysenteric affections;" it is not affected by alcohol; Griffith (Med. Bot. 552) also speaks favorably of it as an application to inflamed eyes, being effectual in the removal of the irritation so constant in this complaint. It is advantageously given as a demulcent drink in disorders of the re piratory organs, bowels and bladder; being more efficacious than that prepared from the leaves of Bene, (Sesamum Indicum.').


King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Sassafras is a warm, aromatic stimulant, alterative, diaphoretic, and diuretic. It is generally used in combination with other alteratives, particularly podophyllum, whose flavor it improves, in syphilitic affections, chronic rheumatism, scrofula, and many cutaneous eruptions. Stubborn cases require also the aid of vapor, spirit or sulphur baths. The mucilage of the pith (2 drachms to 1 pint of water) is used as a local application in acute ophthalmia, and is a demulcent drink in disorders of the chest, bowels, kidneys, and bladder. The oil, in doses of from 5 to 10 drops on sugar, is used to afford relief in the distressing pain attending menstrual obstructions, and that following parturition; also used in diseases of the kidneys and bladder. I have also derived some benefit from its internal use in gonorrhoea and obstinate gleet; 5 to 10 drops on sugar, 3 times a day (J. King), Externally, as a rubefacient, in painful swellings, sprains, bruises, rheumatism, etc., and is said to check the progress of gangrene. An infusion of the bark (℥j to hot water Oj) administered internally and applied externally is reputed an excellent treatment for rhus poisoning.

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states:

The root bark contains antiseptic constituents, making it an effective remedy for skin wounds and sores. It has been recommended for relief from the itching of poison ivy and poison oak. The gummy core of the branches was once used to soothe tired eyes.

Plants for A Future states:

Medicinal use of Sassafras: Sassafras has a long history of herbal use. It was widely employed by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide range of complaints, valuing it especially for its tonic effect upon the body. It is still commonly used in herbalism and as a domestic remedy. The root bark and root pith are alterative, anodyne, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and vasodilator. A tea made from the root bark is particularly renowned as a spring tonic and blood purifier as well as a household cure for a wide range of ailments such as gastrointestinal complaints, colds, kidney ailments, rheumatism and skin eruptions. The mucilaginous pith from the twigs has been used as a poultice or wash for eye ailments and is also taken internally as a tea for chest, liver and kidney complaints. An essential oil from the root bark is used as an antiseptic in dentistry and also as an anodyne. The oil contains safrole, which is said to have carcinogenic activity and has been banned from use in American foods - though it is less likely to cause cancer than alcohol. In large doses the oil is poisonous, causing dilated pupils, vomiting, stupor, collapse and kidney and liver damage. The oil has been applied externally to control lice and treat insect bites, though it can cause skin irritation

Peterson Field Guides Eastern and Central Medicinal Plants tells us:

Root bark tea a famous spring blood tonic an “blood purifier”; Also a folk remedy for stomach aches, gout, arthritis, high blood pressure, rheumatism, kidney ailments, colds, fevers, skin eruptions. The mucilaginous twig pith has been used as a wash or poultice for eye elements; also taken internally, in tea, for chest, bowel, kidney, and liver ailments. Leaves mucilaginous, once used to treat stomach aches, widely used as a base for soup stocks. Warning: safrole (found in oil of sassafras) reportedly is carcinogenic. Banned by FDA. Yet the safrole in a 12 ounce can of old-fashioned root beer is not as carcinogenic as the alcohol (ethanol) in a can of beer.

Botany In a Day states:

Sassafras is usually a small tree found on the edges of forests throughout the east the bark of the root was the first commercial product sent to Europe by the colonist. Its leaves are a key ingredient in gumbo. The leaves as well as the flowers and drupes make a nice tea. The root is recommended as a tea in traditional medicine to help people through transitions between seasons but also during life changes such as a new job or moving homes. Sassafras contains a volatile compound called safrole, which was shown to be carcinogenic in studies with rats and mice in the 1960s, leading to a banned by the FDA on the use of sassafras as a flavoring or food additive. Later research by James Duke debunked the earlier studies, but the ban is still in effect.



This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

His New book is:



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Read About The Omnivore’s Guide to Home Cooking for Preppers, Homesteaders, Permaculture People and Everyone Else"

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His other works include:

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Read about Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines of The American Southeast An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2022/06/medicinal-shrubs-and-woody-vines-of.html

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Growing Your Survival Herb Garden for Preppers, Homesteaders and Everyone Else

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Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People

southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/10/herbal-medicine-for-preppers.html

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Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide

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The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle:

https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html



Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

His weekly articles may be read at judsoncarroll.com

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Disclaimer


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
 
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I know growing up, my Gran (Appalachian mountain herbalist) used sassafras from everything to helping colicky babies 👶, to using it for stomach aches. Every time I get on this site I kick myself in the ass for not being mature enough to realize what all I was missing when I didn’t stick right by her side. What an amazing woman she was.
 
Judson Carroll
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Gierlothnir Wodanson wrote:I know growing up, my Gran (Appalachian mountain herbalist) used sassafras from everything to helping colicky babies 👶, to using it for stomach aches. Every time I get on this site I kick myself in the ass for not being mature enough to realize what all I was missing when I didn’t stick right by her side. What an amazing woman she was.



I know the feeling!
 
Gierlothnir Wodanson
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Judson Carroll wrote:

Gierlothnir Wodanson wrote:I know growing up, my Gran (Appalachian mountain herbalist) used sassafras from everything to helping colicky babies 👶, to using it for stomach aches. Every time I get on this site I kick myself in the ass for not being mature enough to realize what all I was missing when I didn’t stick right by her side. What an amazing woman she was.



I know the feeling!



Oh man your in the blue ridge. I kayaked Johns river last July got some friends in Lenore. I LOVE it there. Every time I’m down there it’s all I can do not to…”into the wild” Mcandless move 😂😂😂
 
Judson Carroll
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Gierlothnir Wodanson wrote:

Judson Carroll wrote:

Gierlothnir Wodanson wrote:I know growing up, my Gran (Appalachian mountain herbalist) used sassafras from everything to helping colicky babies 👶, to using it for stomach aches. Every time I get on this site I kick myself in the ass for not being mature enough to realize what all I was missing when I didn’t stick right by her side. What an amazing woman she was.



I know the feeling!



Oh man your in the blue ridge. I kayaked Johns river last July got some friends in Lenore. I LOVE it there. Every time I’m down there it’s all I can do not to…”into the wild” Mcandless move 😂😂😂



I is paradise. I have lived in 5 states, but I always come home.
 
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Wow, I have been eating gumbo de herbes for almost a week now and totally forgot to put the file powder on last night! (sassafras)
 
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Sassafras oil or Safrole is a carcinogen and the government banned its use in food products in the 70's

Now it is a controlled substance because it is used to manufacture MDMA (Ecstasy)

 
William Kellogg
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Of course making sassafras tea and other remedies from the roots is far different from extracting and consuming the oil, which is much more concentrated.

Not to mention that many medicines are carcinogens, and sometimes the benefits outweigh the risk...
 
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