Facts About Sassafras

Facts About SassafrasThe sassafras tree is a tree that is native to the eastern portions of North America as well as parts of eastern Asia. Sassafras has had many uses over the years, with the Native Americans finding that it helped to deal with several conditions and the early settlers utilizing it for a number of reasons. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has determined that some of the substances in sassafras tree products can cause cancer.


The sassafras tree can grow as high as over 100 feet, but most are not nearly that size, achieving heights of between 20 and 40 feet. While a young sassafras tree will have bark that is green, as it ages this color turns to brownish-orange. The older a sassafras tree gets, the more furrowed its bark becomes. The most readily identifiable thing about sassafras is that every part of the plant is aromatic, giving off a smell that reminds reminiscent of root beer. Also, this tree is one of the few that will have as many as three different types of leaves on it at one time. The leaves can be oval in shape, have two lobes, or have three. The leaves are as long as 5 inches and are a vivid green in the summer months. As they turn color in the fall, sassafras leaves will become orange, red, yellow and purple before falling off.


Some of the more modern uses for the sassafras tree include employing the roots to flavor root beer and the leaves and bark to make sassafras tea. Soaps were made more aromatic by sassafras oils and grinding up the stems helped to produce a compound used to thicken gumbo called filé. The Native American tribes had a multitude of uses for sassafras, with medicines made from the tree used to treat fevers, diarrhea, arthritis and colds. Mouthwashes were made from sassafras as were ointments for sore eyes. Bee stings, sprained ankles, nosebleeds, cuts and tapeworms were all treated with sassafras and the leaves were utilized to spice up meals.

Food for Wildlife

The sassafras tree produces a small blue fruit in the early fall months that is a food for such birds as the mockingbird, wild turkeys, bobwhite quails, flycatchers, woodpeckers, warblers, phoebes and different kinds of woodpeckers. Mammals, such as the white-tailed deer, will browse on the leaves and twigs and beavers, black bears and many kinds of squirrels will eat its fruit along with the bark. Rabbits will eat the bark in the winter.


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