Sassafras albidum Lauraceae
Common Sassafras SAS-ah-fras AL-bi-dum
- Broadleaf deciduous tree, 30-60 ft (9-18 m), irregular shape, especially when young, may become flat-topped and broad at maturity, may root sucker and form thickets. Leaves alternate, simple, entire, ovate to elliptic, 3-7 inches (8-18 cm) long, some are mitten-shaped or 3-lobed, medium green in summer then yellow, orange or scarlet in fall. Flowers usually dioecious - male and female flowers on separate plants, develop before leaves, they are yellow and are borne in terminal racemes. Fruit oblong, nearly pea-sized, 3 cm long, blue, black and pruinose (waxy bloom) when it ripens in early fall.
- Full sun or light shade. Difficult to transplant from the wild because of a deep tap root. Tends to be free of problems.
- Hardy to USDA Zone 4 Native from Maine to Ontario and Michigan, south to Florida and Texas.
- sassafras: probably an adaptation of a Native American name; albidum: whitish, apparently refers to the sometimes glaucous bloom on the underside of leaves.
- The bark of roots was used to make sassafras tea and to flavor root beer. "Aromatic sassafras tea, once popular as a stimulant and blood thinner and as a reputed cure for rheumatism and syphilis, causes cancer in rats when taken in large amounts. Oil of sassafras and safrole, major chemical components of the aromatic oil in sassafras root bark, were taken out of root beer more than 30 years ago. And sassafras bark was banned from use in all food.
Safrole-free extract, however, is allowed in food" (Snider, Sharon. 1991.
Beware the Unknown Brew: Herbal Teas and Toxicity. FDA Consumer Magazine (May).
- Filé (FEE-lay) powder, which used in Creole cooking, is made from the dried ground leaves of the sassafras tree. It is
believed to have been first used by the Choctaw Indians from Louisiana bayou region. Today the
powder is used to both thicken and flavor gumbo.
- Corvallis: older tree in back yard at 1553 Jackson; also on the east side of 30th St near Grant Ave.; two
younger trees at the SW corner of Adams Ave. and 8th St.