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Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

Other Names: Ague tree, Saxifrax, Cinnamonwood, Saloop, Smelling-stick

Caution: May be harmful in excessive doses. The FDA has banned it from being sold for internal use.

Properties   Sassafras was used extensively for food and medicine by Native Americans long before European settlers arrived. Sassafras sassafras2_sm.jpg (9505 bytes)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.

Photo by Karen Bergeron Copyright 2009

    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.

Folklore   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.

Habitat   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.

 

Article by Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron

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