Photo by Karen Bergeron
Photo by Deb Jackson
Other Names: Ague tree, Saxifrax, Cinnamonwood,
Caution: May be harmful in excessive
doses. The FDA has banned it from being sold for internal use.
Sassafras is a deciduous tree native to eastern North America From Maine to
Ontario, south to Florida and Texas. In the North it is a shrub growing only to 7 or 8
feet, but in the Southern States it sometimes attains a height of 100 feet. Found growing
in thickets, rich woods, forest openings and edges, roadsides and fence rows. Root sprouts
grow vigorously and colonize the area around the main tree. The leaves are alternate,
simple, with smooth margins and different in shape, some with three lobes and
others with one lobe on the side looking like a mitten and some with none, turning yellow
to bright red in autumn. The yellow-green fragrant flowers bloom in clusters in early
spring. The fruit is a dark blue berry, about the size of a pea, in
a red cup, on a red stalk, in a cluster, ripening in Aug.-Oct.. All parts of
the tree are aromatic. Gather the root bark anytime, dry for later use.
Sassafras was used extensively for food and medicine by Native Americans
long before European settlers arrived. Sassafras bark was one of the first exports of the
New World. In the southern U.S., the roots were boiled, then combined with molasses, and
allowed to ferment into the first ROOT BEER. The young leaves can be added to salads and
have a mild aromatic flavor.
Sassafras tea is made from the root bark, it is refreshing
and tonic. The root bark and root pith are used in alternative medicine as
an alterative, anodyne, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic,
diuretic, stimulant and vasodilator. An Infusion is used to treat
gastrointestinal complaints, colds, liver and kidney ailments, rheumatism
skin eruptions and as a blood purifier. The essential oil (Safrole) from the root bark is used as an antiseptic and anodyne in dentistry. The
production of sassafras oil by distillation of the root and root bark is a small industry
in the southeastern section of the country. Now prohibited for use as a flavoring or food
additive because it is said to have carcinogenic properties, though it is less likely to
cause cancer than alcohol. A sassafras tree repels mosquitoes and other insects. All parts
of the tree contain essential oils and give off a pleasant spicy aroma when crushed.
Explorers and settlers associated the pleasant aroma of the tree with
healing and protection from evil influences, and extracts of the bark and roots soon
became a panacea elixir sought by Europeans.
Article by Deb Jackson & Karen