Parts Used - Root bark.
Sassafras is used primarily in skin problems such as eczema and
psoriasis. As another aspect of its undoubted systemic activity,
sassafras may be used with benefit in the treatment of rheumatism and
gout. As a diaphoretic sassafras may be used in fevers and systemic
infections. Sassafras has a disinfectant action and makes a valuable
mouthwash and dentifrice. Sassafras acts as a specific to combat head
lice and other body infestations.
Sassafras root bark was long considered a virtual cure-all, but only its
effectiveness in relieving intestinal gas and as a diuretic have been
substantiated. Because of the designation as "unsafe," the bark is no
longer sold or used commercially, nor should it be used by anyone.
When the Spanish arrived in Florida in the early 16th century, they
mistook the fragrant sassafras for a cinnamon tree, an error still
perpetuated in one of the tree's common names. The local Indians used
the bark of its roots to treat fevers and rheumatism, and as a general
tonic and "blood purifier"-a medicine that by causing urination and
sweating cleanses the blood of "impurities" once thought to cause a
range of ailments from skin diseases to malaria. Word of sassafras's
amazing curative powers reached Europe, and for a time it became a major
colonial export, second only to tobacco. The Europeans also discovered
sassafras tea, and it soon became a fashionable beverage. A growing (but
unjustified) reputation as a cure for syphilis cost sassafras its
respectability, however, and as a result, its economic importance.
An oil extracted from the tree remained in use as an antiseptic for
dentistry and as a flavoring for toothpastes, root beer, and chewing gum
until the early 1960's. At that time the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration declared that the chemical compound safrole, found in the
oil of the root bark, was a potential carcinogen.