Monday, October 22, 2012

Medical Mondays: Poll results and Sassafras

Well the poll results are in. Looks like you guys are interested in weird diseases, fictional medical questions (yay!), and herbal remedies, among other things. I was surprised but pleased to see that many of you want to know how to be healthier writers. Excellent! Thanks for polling!

So today I'm going to talk a little about Sassafras.

From Wikipedia
I've had an affection for this weedy tree my whole life. It grew wild everywhere in Maryland where I grew up. The leaves are trimorphic, in that they can be unilobular, bilobed (resembling a mitten) and trilobed. The cut end of a leaf has the most amazing fragrance, like root beer mixed with citrus and perfume. I used to break off a leaf at every opportunity to smell its deliciousness.

I'd heard that sassafras root was used for tea and for medicinal uses, but I was shocked to find out how deadly this plant can be.

Traditional Uses:
  • Constituent in root beer and sarsparilla
  • Treatment for gonorrhea and syphilis 
  • For pain relief and antisepsis and as an anticoagulant (prevents blood from clotting)
  • To treat a variety of sicknesses, such as scruvy, menstrual problems, fevers, joint problems, for tooth problems, among many other things.
  • To ward off evil spirits
Why it's dangerous:
  •  Sassfrass root tea and oil containing the compound safrole can cause permanent liver damage and different types of cancer. Some of the effects build over time and aren't apparent, to say, root tea drinkers.
Other factoids (and why you shouldn't panic if you see it in your beer):
  • Safrole can be used to produce MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Sassafras extracts without safrole are still used in making root beer, teas, and to flavor microbrews
  • Sassafrass leaves, bark, and fruit are eaten by a lot of wildlife, including deer, groundhogs, turkeys, bears and woodpeckers. 
Living in the midwest, I miss my sassafras trees. I never knew it was toxic until I did this post.

Do you guys know sassafras?

References: Here and here and here.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
  All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --> Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

35 comments:

Sarah said...

I had absolutely no idea--I only associated it with root beer and thought it had an awesome name. But now I know so much more! Thanks, Lydia.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Sassafras is one of the few trees I can identify, thanks to having those 3 differently shaped leaves. We have them in PA and DE too.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I've heard of it but never seen a tree or smelled it. You're making me want to. Thanks for all the info on it.

shelly said...

I drink Jasmine tea. I hope that's not toxic.

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

Connie Keller said...

Wow! Whenever I saw it hiking, I just assumed it was a safe plant. I'm glad I never decided to chew a leaf.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad I'm not a tea drinker now!

Karen Lange said...

I knew a little about it but not this much. Thanks for the info! :)

LTM said...

well, kiss my sassafras! OK, I had to... :D LOL!

I had no idea it was deadly, but I also didn't realize it was what makes root beer taste that way. Interesting as always, Dr. K~ :D <3

Old Kitty said...

I so knew it had something to do with root beer!!! But I didn't know it could help with the curing of syphilis! What a tree!! Yay!! Take care
x

Jay Noel said...

BIG root beer fan here, so I appreciate this plant. But I wonder where that saying, "Kiss my sassafras" comes from.

Kelly Polark said...

I had no idea it could be deadly! And I sometimes call my 10yo daughter Sassafras. Cause she can be sassy. :)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I drank it once with my grandma. I was little, but I recall digging up the roots and boiling it. Now I'm glad I was a picky eater and hated the taste!

Bossy Betty said...

Deadly, huh? I had no idea. Gotta love the name though!

Lydia Kang said...

Oh lordy. "Kiss my sassafras" I believe is a lyric from an Aerosmith song. Sorry, I had to fact check these comments!

Jai Joshi said...

I didn't know much about sassafras at all so thanks for enlightening me. I'll be careful!

Jai

Barbara Watson said...

I did not know any of this -- other than the root beer and tea part. And even with that, I didn't know about its toxicity.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I had never heard of Sassafras. It sounds like it should be taken with caution.

mooderino said...

I've always associated it with a euphemism for swearing used by cartoon characters.

mood
Moody Writing

Angela Brown said...

I've heard of sassafrass for different reasons.

I was aware of it's relation to root beer, which is the only beer I like

And my friends jokingly refer to each other as "sassafrass" when we're looking particularly "hot" that day.

Carrie Butler said...

Move to Ohio, Lydia! We have plenty of sassafras, and we're still considered a part of the midwest.

Win, win! ;)

lbdiamond said...

Sassafras--what a great word.

Looking forward to more informative posts!

bethchristopher.com said...

I did not know sassafras. It is fun to say. I didn't know it was a yummy-smelling tree with poison potential. Love your informative posts!

Tez Miller said...

My state has a suburb named Sassafras. Don't know if sassafras grows there, though.

The Golden Eagle said...

I had heard of sassafras being used as a dye, but I didn't know it was poisonous.

LD Masterson said...

I've had Sassafras tea but that's the extent of my knowledge. Or was, until I read this post.

So do we have a possibility here for someone to commit murder by giving his victim sassafras root tea containing safrole over a period of time? Hey, we mystery writers are always looking for new ways to bump someone off.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Interesting! No sassafras in Alaska, but one of my characters might use it one day. Somehow poison seems to creep into a number of my stories...

Linda Gray said...

Huh. The only thing I knew about sassafras is it had something to do with some guy bellying up to the bar in an old western movie and asking for a sarsaparilla.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

sassafras - great smelling with potential for poison. Brrr. Sounds like my first blind date! I'll stick with plain old black tea, thank you! Please don't tell me that it's bad for me, too! :-)

Bathwater said...

Now I'm not sure whether the bears and deer back east are high on ecstasy. Wasn't a sarsparilla the favorite non alcoholic drink of the old west?

Southpaw said...

I had no idea there was a toxic component. Nor did I know it would help ward off all those evil spirits.

Romance Book Haven said...

This is the first time I've heard of this tree and it's uses. Probably because we might not have it.

But good to know for fictional purpose!

Nas

Lorelei said...

This was excellent, Lydia! Thanks for posting. I'm a natural herbal remidy sort of person. I always wondered about sassafras.

Leslie S. Rose said...

I've heard of Sassafras my whole life. Who knew it was the silent killer. I'd better cut down on the root beer barrel hard candies.

Jo Schaffer said...

Did not know some of this! Ecstasy? Ah ha!

vbtremper said...

I'd heard of Sassafrass, but it doesn't grow where I live. I think I'd heard about the negatives before, too. Cool post!

-Vicki

 
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