Learn to Use Medicinal Herbs Safely

Learn how to use medicinal herbs safely, includes information on Sassafras, Sarsaparilla and Bayberry herbs.
By Kathryn Kingsbury
March/April 2007

Sassafras leaf.

Content Tools

Learn how to use medicinal herbs safely in your home. 

As with any use of medicinal herbs, homebrewers should be conscious of the advantages and drawbacks of the plants they employ and learn to use medicinal herbs safely. Most of the herbs featured are considered benign or wholly beneficial by both traditional herbalists and the medical establishment, except to people with allergies to specific plants. But some of the ingredients in root beer are more controversial.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): Animal studies have linked consumption of large amounts of safrole, one of the chemical constituents of sassafras, to liver and nerve damage, as well as liver cancer. Therefore, the United States and Canada both have banned the use of sassafras in processed and packaged foods. It is, however, legal to sell sassafras in its natural or dried form, and it continues to be available at many health-food stores and through mail order. It is interesting to note that the amount of ethanol in a bottle of beer is many times more carcinogenic than the amount of safrole in a same-sized bottle of root beer.

Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.): Sarsaparilla may affect levels of sex hormones, such as testosterone and progesterone. Physicians and herbalists recommend that pregnant women avoid it. Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is not known to have the same effect and may be used as a substitute if sustainably harvested.

Bayberry (Morella cerifera): If you collect your own bayberry roots, avoid touching the waxy fruits of the plant, which irritate the skin. Some compounds in the fruit wax also are thought to be carcinogenic.

Post a comment below.


Pay Now & Save 50% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Live The Good Life with Grit!

For more than 125 years, Grit has helped its readers live more prosperously and happily while emphasizing the importance of community and a rural lifestyle tradition. In each bimonthly issue, Grit includes helpful articles, humorous and inspiring articles, captivating photos, gardening and cooking advice, do-it-yourself projects and the practical reader advice you would expect to find in America’s premier rural lifestyle magazine.

Get your guide to living outside the city limits delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe to Grit today!  Simply fill in your information below to receive 1 year (6 issues) of Grit for only $19.95!


At Grit, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to Grit through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Grit for only $14.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Grit for just $19.95!