From the HBD Archive
From: Russell Owen <OWEN@VAXE.NIEHS.NIH.GOV>
Subject: Rootbeer
Date: 1992-07-08 12:26:00 GMT

My note on the possible hazards of genuine rootbeer
elicited a response from D. Popowich asking for details.
I lost his email address and this is tangentially related
to homebrewing, so here goes ...

Root beer is flavored with a distillate of the young shoots
or root bark of _Sassofras_variifolium_, a member of the
laurel family. (I remember shaving off pieces of bark to chew
upon as a child in Trumbull, CT.) Sassafras has also been
used to make tea for medicinal and enjoyment, and to make a
yellow dye. In addition, an oil from sassafras fruit has been
used in perfumery.

The trouble with sassafras is that it contains _safrole_, a
carcinogen (see the NTP 85-002, 1985). Safrole (aka
5-(2-Propenyl)1,3-benzodioxole, aka allylcatechol methylene ether,
aka 4-allyl-1,2-methylenedioxybenzene, aka allyldioxybenzene
methylene ether, aka m-allylpyrocatechin methylene ether) is
about 75% of oil of sassafras. It has been used as a topical
antiseptic and a pediculicide (lice treatment). Its oral toxicity
in rats is 50% lethality at a dose of 1.95 g per kg.

So, if you must indulge, do so in moderation!

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