I thoroughly enjoyed your story but was saddened by the USDA's (actually the FDA's) findings on carcinogenic properties of safrole. Wondering how so many people in days past were able to ingest such substances and live to ripe old ages made me do some research and I didn't have to go far to find some heartening information. The following was copied from a Wikipedia article on sassafras:
Safrole is regarded by the U.S. government to be a weak carcinogen in rats. It naturally occurs in a variety of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and herbs such as basil. In that role safrole is believed, although not proven, to make a small but measurable contribution to the overall incidence of human cancer, equal to the hazards presented by orange juice and tomatoes. In the United States, it was once widely used as a food additive in root beer, sassafras tea, and other common goods, but was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after its carcinogenicity in rats was discovered. Today, safrole is also banned for use in soap and perfumes by the International Fragrance Association.
According to a 1977 study of the metabolites of safrole in both rats and humans, two carcinogenic metabolites of safrole found in the urine of rats, 1'-hydroxysafrole and 3'-hydroxyisosafrole, were not found in human urine. This brings to question the actual carcinogenicity of safrole in humans.
As I read it, it seems that it's really not that strong...just the FDA trying to cover it's butt perhaps. I believe any increase in cancer rates within the last fifty years can be attributed to industrialized food instead.
Hi Karen, I read the Wiki information too, and I agree with your last statement about industrialized food.
But when I write articles, I have to err on the side of caution, which is why I wrote what I did. Excessive amounts of anything will harm us, but I grew up on sassafras tea and chewing sassafras twigs, and I'm pretty old now. Even so, I'm afraid we've forever lost it from our root bear.
Thanks for your research, and for sharing it.
And thanks for reading the ariticle.
The key to the problem is that it is **safrole**, in its "pure" form (things have been removed, things which are likely beneficial when combined with safrole), which has been shown to "cause cancer". NOT sassafras itself. Just think of all the whole foods we eat every day which "happen" to contain known carcinogens -- yet we still do not get cancer from those WHOLE foods. The food we get from the store is over-processed, with vitamins and "nutrients" (those known to Science, anyway) added to replace what is removed during the processing, to the point that it is actually becoming dangerous to eat it.
"Nutrition Science" is like all other Science -- incomplete. When Science can create an infant formula every bit as nutritious and ***complete*** (read: beneficial, not harmful) as breast milk, that is when "Nutrition Science" will have surpassed Nature. Until then, accept what the FDA says about food with the proverbial grain of salt.
I had to laugh at your description of yourself in childhood tasting everything.
I did that as well while growing up in the Rockies.
We all picked grasses and fruits and such. There was one plant in particular that I loved to pick and chew to a pulp. I looked forward to it in spring. It must have been some sort of wild herb, looking as it did somewhat like a gray, furry carrot top. The taste was so lovely, sort of spicy and sweet, that, fifty years later, I can still visualize it and remember the taste!
I have no idea what that plant was. It might have been poisonous for all I know. But it didn't (obviously) kill me or cause long lasting effects that I know of and lives on in my memories of good times with childhood friends, wandering and playing in the foothills of the Continental Divide.
It's so good to hear from you... there wasn't much to do when I was growing up except to explore those wonderful mountains and all they had to offer. For the longest time I thought I had a boring childhood until I realized finally all the important things I really learned. You, too, maybe.
Thanks for your comment. Hope the linked article above jogged your memory.
It won't be long till spring, you know!