Is sassafras illegal in the US?

Introduction: What is sassafras?

Sassafras is a deciduous tree native to North America that is known for its aromatic properties. The tree’s leaves, bark, and roots have been used for centuries in traditional medicine and cuisine. Sassafras has a distinct, spicy aroma and flavor that is often used to flavor root beer and other beverages. The tree’s roots are also used to make tea, and sassafras oil is used in perfumes and soaps.

The history of sassafras use in the US

Sassafras has a long history of use in the United States, dating back to Native American tribes who used the plant for medicinal purposes. The plant was also used by early European settlers, who believed that it had healing properties. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, sassafras was a common ingredient in root beer and other soft drinks. However, the use of sassafras declined in the mid-20th century due to concerns about its safety.

The controversy surrounding sassafras

Despite its long history of use, sassafras has been the subject of controversy due to its potential health risks. The plant contains a compound called safrole, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. This has led to concerns about the safety of sassafras and its products, particularly sassafras oil.

The FDA’s ban on sassafras

In the 1960s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sassafras oil in food and drugs due to its safrole content. The ban was based on studies that showed that safrole caused liver damage and cancer in animals. Since then, the use of sassafras oil in food and drugs has been prohibited in the US.

Sassafras oil vs. safrole: What’s the difference?

Sassafras oil is the essential oil extracted from the bark of the sassafras tree. It is used in perfumes, soaps, and other products for its distinct aroma. Safrole is a compound found in sassafras oil that has been shown to cause cancer in animals. While sassafras oil contains safrole, other parts of the sassafras tree contain much lower levels of the compound.

The dangers of safrole

Safrole has been shown to cause liver damage and cancer in animals. While there is limited evidence of the health effects of safrole in humans, the FDA has classified it as a potential human carcinogen. The agency has also set limits on the amount of safrole that can be present in certain products, such as cosmetics.

How sassafras is regulated in the US

Sassafras is regulated in the US by the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The use of sassafras oil in food and drugs is prohibited, and the sale of safrole is regulated by the DEA as a controlled substance. However, sassafras leaves and bark are not regulated, and can be sold legally.

Is it legal to possess sassafras in the US?

It is legal to possess sassafras leaves and bark in the US. However, the possession of safrole without a DEA license is illegal. Sassafras oil is also illegal to possess, except for use in perfumes and other non-food products.

The legality of sassafras in different states

The legality of sassafras varies by state. Some states have banned the sale of sassafras oil, while others allow it to be sold for non-food purposes. It is important to check the laws in your state before purchasing sassafras or sassafras oil.

Sassafras substitutes: What are the options?

There are several substitutes for sassafras that can be used in cooking and baking. These include anise, fennel, and licorice root. These substitutes have a similar flavor profile to sassafras and can be used in recipes that call for sassafras.

Conclusion: Should you use sassafras?

While sassafras has a long history of use in traditional medicine and cuisine, its potential health risks have led to its regulation by the FDA and DEA. While it is legal to possess sassafras leaves and bark, the use of sassafras oil in food and drugs is prohibited. It is important to be aware of the risks associated with sassafras and to use substitutes or alternative ingredients in recipes that call for sassafras.

Resources for further information on sassafras and safrole

  • US Food and Drug Administration:
  • Drug Enforcement Administration:
  • National Institutes of Health:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • Environmental Protection Agency:
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Elise DeVoe

Elise is a seasoned food writer with seven years of experience. Her culinary journey began as Managing Editor at the College of Charleston for Spoon University, the ultimate resource for college foodies. After graduating, she launched her blog, Cookin’ with Booze, which has now transformed into captivating short-form videos on TikTok and Instagram, offering insider tips for savoring Charleston’s local cuisine.

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