To level with y'all, I wasn't sure what I was gonna write about this week. Well, maybe I could write on the Red River Gorge trip we took this weekend? Then Ryan and I found a huge shrub of sassafras beside the shed and we thought: how could we have ever missed that?!
Seriously, it may just be Ryan's favorite herb. He told me the story of when he ate it on the run.
Ryan and his friend Ryan S. set up a run on the North Loop at Shawnee, six miles in and six out. They didn't bring their hydration packs because there was supposed to be a campground with water at the sixth mile. After double checking the map to be sure, they started their run.
It was summer, and the sun was high. They were starting to perspire heavily and feel the effects of the run. I guess it goes without saying that they were probably pretty darn thirsty! But halfway in, they passed a pond and decided not to stop. As they continued down the trail, it became rugged and constantly changed in elevation; and as they neared the sixth mile they slowly came to realize that the campground wasn't where the map placed it. Ryan S. had been tracking the miles with his watch, so they were sure they were at the right mile. However, there was something the map didn't tell them: Shawnee had been doing some trail renovation and there were detours that changed the mileage.
So where was it? It was bad enough they hadn't any water or nutrition on the way in, and now they might have to face it the same on the way out. Thank goodness there were black berries along the path. They grabbed as many as they could get and quickly scarfed them down. Their blood sugar was rising back to normal, and they could feel their energy pick up a bit more. Then one of them noticed some sassafras and they tried that.
After that they picked up the pace and made their way a little further down the trail. And guess what they found? That darn campground...
Sassafras albidum is part of the Lauraceae (Laurel) family. You'll notice it in the fall, as it becomes vibrant in yellow, orange, and red hues.
The leaves are mitten-shaped and with three points. These shrubs are easier to identify when young, as their leaves change shape with age. The roots smell of root beer, something that it was once used for (but not anymore, as you'll soon learn why.) The leaves taste a little like citrus, and has a menthol effect from the camphor and mythyleugenol constituents.
This plant can be found up north as far as Michigan and all the way south to Texas, in sandy soil on the edge of woods and fields.
Back in the early colonial days, the leaves and roots were shipped to Europe for tea. Traditionally, all parts were used for various maladies: tired eyes, fever, stomach aches, and even in treating syphilis, but none of that has been clinically proven to be true.
In fact, studies have proved otherwise...
Well, the leaves are fine...but the bark contains the poisonous constituent safrole. Studies on safrole have shown it to contain carcinogenic properties, leaving rodents with liver cancer. In another study, it also showed malignant mutation of the tissues (cancer) in the test subjects (flies). For us humans, ingesting this oil can cause "anxiety, shakiness, tachycardia, vomiting, and raised blood pressure".
(http://klemow.wilkes.edu/) In large doses, it can cause liver and kidney damage. Now, oils high in safrole are listed as a chemical (List I Chemicals).
As if all of that wasn't eye opening enough, prepare yourselves for more!
While digging through PubMed and Academia, for some reason I click a link that sends me to an untitled messaging board. Okaaaaay...
To be honest, I still can't quite trace my steps perfectly to how I ended up there. It started out as someone asking where they could find some "non-reg oil high in safrole". Must be a homeopath, they're nuts like that, I thought, jokingly, and what do they mean by "non-reg"? Then there was a reply:
Ned, see now that's the problem. The Man knows that MDMA chemists use safrole as an easy starting material to get to the end product. That's why sassy is a heavily watched oil (because it contains so much safrole). There are other plants that contain appreciable amounts of safrole, but there essential oils are not commercially available... at least a friend of mine has searched far and wide for these oils and came up with nothing. If you know how to do a steam distillation of herbaceous plant matter, it might be in your own interest to grow some plants. A good genus to look at is Piper (the peppers). The roots, stems, and leaves of this genus contain enough safrole that it's worth looking into. By the way, if anyone has found any of the oils I referred to, but hasn't posted it, please PM me and let me know! I know you're doing it for good reason (you don't want the Man to shut your sources down), and I promise on my soul I won't tell! Why must the Man hold us down??!!!??
Well, well, well...
"The Man" sounds like the government, and I discovered MDMA's common name is "ecstasy". Let that sink in.
Well, we've learned that the bark is poisonous and that apparently you can make drugs from it's essential oil, (but not how to make them). What is it good for then? It's bad out weighs the good, but people still drink tea made from the leaves and roots. Applied to the skin, it relieves itching of the rash given by poison ivy and poison oak. Some still use it as a dental disinfectant.
So, if you do use it please do so with caution. It shouldn't be used by pregnant or nursing women (it's caused abortions), children, or the elderly. This herb is still beautiful as a bush, and I'm sure I'll chew its young leaves occasionally, but I'm still in a whirl from all that I've learned.
Questions? Comments? Let me know, down below!
(n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/sassafras-albidum/
(n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://klemow.wilkes.edu/Sassafras.html
Sassafras. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sassaf20.html
(n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://chemistry.mdma.ch/hiveboard/newbee/000468275.html
Author: Tina Potter
Master Herbalist, I've graduated as an American Healthcare College Alumnus, I've become a member of American Herbalist Guild and author of survivalist series Survival Ember co-authored by professional survivalist Kenny Dietrich of Ashland, KY. I've been beyond blessed with the constant desire to learn and teach.
COMMON SENSE NOTICE: I do not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. What you do with the information I post is up to you, but it is advised to consult with a doctor before acting on alternative methods of medicine. I wish you all the best!