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Sassafras albidum - (Nutt.)Nees.                
Common Name Sassafras, Common Sassafras
Family Lauraceae
Synonyms S. officinale. S. sassafras. Laurus albida.
Known Hazards The extracted essential oil is poisonous in large quantities[4, 165]. The essential il contains safrole which is known to be carcinogenic and potentially harmful to the liver[274]. The essential oil has been banned as a food flavouring in America, even though the potential toxicity is lower than that of alcohol[222].
Habitats Deciduous woodlands and thickets on rich sandy well-drained soils[43, 62, 159, 165]. Found on moist soils[82].
Range Eastern N. America - Maine to Ontario, south to Florida and Texas.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Bloom Color: Yellow. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Pyramidal, Rounded.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of lolypop
Sassafras albidum is a deciduous Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 10-Apr It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.

USDA hardiness zone : 5-9

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Sassafras albidum Sassafras, Common Sassafras

Sassafras albidum Sassafras, Common Sassafras
Woodland Garden Canopy; Secondary; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment;  Tea.

Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves can be added to salads whilst both old and young leaves can be used as a flavouring and as a thickening agent in soups etc[2, 20, 55, 62, 82, 102, 183]. They have a mild aromatic flavour[K]. The leaves are often dried and ground into powder for later use[82, 159, 183]. The young shoots have been used to make a kind of beer[4]. The dried root bark can be boiled with sugar and water until it forms a thick paste[183]. It is then used as a condiment[183]. The root and the berries can also be used as flavourings[55, 142]. Winter buds and young leaves - raw[62, 183]. A tea is made from the root bark, it is considered to be a tonic[18, 20, 55, 62]. The tea can also be made by brewing the root in maple syrup, this can be concentrated into a jelly[183]. A tea can also be made from the leaves and the roots. It is best in spring. A tea can be made from the flowers[2].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Alterative;  Anodyne;  Antirheumatic;  Antiseptic;  Aromatic;  Carminative;  Diaphoretic;  Diuretic;  Stimulant;  Vasodilator.

Sassafras has a long history of herbal use. It was widely employed by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide range of complaints, valuing it especially for its tonic effect upon the body[257]. It is still commonly used in herbalism and as a domestic remedy. The root bark and root pith are alterative, anodyne, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and vasodilator[4, 21, 46, 165]. A tea made from the root bark is particularly renowned as a spring tonic and blood purifier as well as a household cure for a wide range of ailments such as gastrointestinal complaints, colds, kidney ailments, rheumatism and skin eruptions[222, 238, 257]. The mucilaginous pith from the twigs has been used as a poultice or wash for eye ailments and is also taken internally as a tea for chest, liver and kidney complaints[222]. An essential oil from the root bark is used as an antiseptic in dentistry and also as an anodyne[213]. The oil contains safrole, which is said to have carcinogenic activity and has been banned from use in American foods - though it is less likely to cause cancer than alcohol[222]. In large doses the oil is poisonous, causing dilated pupils, vomiting, stupor, collapse and kidney and liver damage[4, 238]. The oil has been applied externally to control lice and treat insect bites, though it can cause skin irritation[238].
Other Uses
Dye;  Essential;  Repellent;  Wood.

An essential oil is obtained from the bark of the root[61] and also from the fruits[4]. One hundred kilos of root chips yield one litre of essential oil under steam pressure - this oil comprises about 90% safrol[245]. The oil is medicinal and is also used in soaps, the coarser kinds of perfumery, toothpastes, soft drinks etc[4, 46, 57, 82]. It is also used as an antiseptic in dentistry[61]. A yellow dye is obtained from the wood and the bark[4, 168]. It is brown to orange[168]. The plant repels mosquitoes and other insects[18, 20]. Wood - coarse-grained, soft, weak, fragrant, brittle, very durable in the soil. It weighs 31lb per cubic foot and is used for fence posts and items requiring lightness[46, 82, 171, 227].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Pest tolerant, Massing, Specimen, Woodland garden. Requires a deep, fertile, well-drained, lime-free, near neutral soil in sun or light shade[11, 200]. Does well in a woodland garden[166], especially in a sheltered position along the edge[200]. The plant is tender when young, the young shoots of older trees can also be damaged by late spring frosts[11, 238]. A very ornamental plant[1] with a wide range of uses, it is occasionally cultivated and often gathered from the wild[61]. All parts of the tree contain essential oils and give off a pleasant spicy aroma when crushed[229]. The stem bark is highly aromatic, more so than the wood. The root stem bark is the most pleasant of all[245]. The flowers have a spicy perfume[245]. Trees are long-lived, moderately fast-growing and disease-free in the wild[227, 229]. They can begin flowering when only 10 years old and good seed crops are usually produced every 2 - 3 years[229]. The trees spread by root suckers and can form thickets[229]. Although some flowers appear to be hermaphrodite, they are functionally either male or female and most trees are dioecious[229]. Both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Special Features:North American native, Attracts butterflies, Fragrant flowers, Attractive flowers or blooms.
Seed - best sown as soon as ripe in a cold frame[200]. Stored seed requires 4 months cold stratification at 4°c[113]. It is best sown as early in the year as possible. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as possible and grow them on in the greenhouse. One report says to harden off the plants as soon as possible[78], but young plants are frost-tender[11] and so we recommend growing them on in the greenhouse for their first winter and then planting them out in early summer. Give the young trees some protection for at least their first winter outdoors[K]. Root cuttings, taken from suckers, 1 - 2cm long taken in December. Plant horizontally in pots in a greenhouse[78]. Suckers in late winter. Plant straight out into their permanent positions[200].
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[18]Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants.
Details of beneficial and antagonistic relationships between neighbouring plants.
[20]Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.
Fairly good.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[43]Fernald. M. L. Gray's Manual of Botany.
A bit dated but good and concise flora of the eastern part of N. America.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[55]Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds.
Interesting reading.
[57]Schery. R. W. Plants for Man.
Fairly readable but not very comprehensive. Deals with plants from around the world.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[62]Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Very readable.
[78]Sheat. W. G. Propagation of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers.
A bit dated but a good book on propagation techniques with specific details for a wide range of plants.
[82]Sargent. C. S. Manual of the Trees of N. America.
Two volumes, a comprehensive listing of N. American trees though a bit out of date now. Good details on habitats, some details on plant uses. Not really for the casual reader.
[102]Kavasch. B. Native Harvests.
Another guide to the wild foods of America.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[142]Brouk. B. Plants Consumed by Man.
Readable but not very comprehensive.
[159]McPherson. A. and S. Wild Food Plants of Indiana.
A nice pocket guide to this region of America.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[166]Taylor. J. The Milder Garden.
A good book on plants that you didn't know could be grown outdoors in Britain.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[171]Hill. A. F. Economic Botany.
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[227]Vines. R.A. Trees of North Texas
A readable guide to the area, it contains descriptions of the plants and their habitats with quite a bit of information on plant uses.
[229]Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History.
A very good concise guide. Gives habitats, good descriptions, maps showing distribution and a few of the uses. It also includes the many shrubs that occasionally reach tree proportions.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
patrik Thu May 12 2005
future uses for sassafras?
Elizabeth H.
Cathy Harragian Thu Sep 1 2005
how about an ornamental tree?
Elizabeth H.
Rich (webwever) Mon May 1 2006
How exciting another test message.
Elizabeth H.
Ryan McMullen Tue Jul 25 2006
One that would be nice (maybe I just can't find it) would be a link to a picture of the item. I know what Sassafras looks like. My father-in-law gets the roots for me all the time to make tea with.
Elizabeth H.
Micheline Sat Jul 29 2006
I live in Quebec, Canada. Where can I find the seeds?
Elizabeth H.
Tony Thu Nov 23 2006
Great understory tree for the landscape with super fall color but use caution when considering ingestion. Reference the following: The volatile oil of sassafras is believed to be the major active constituent of the plant. This oil contains up to 85% of the terpenoid known as safrole. Safrole causes liver cancer when given to laboratory animals in high doses for long periods of time. Sassafras bark, sassafras oil, and safrole are currently prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from use as flavorings or food additives. Human studies are lacking to verify the efficacy of sassafras for any condition. However, one case study has been published showing that sassafras acted as a diaphoretic in an otherwise healthy woman. While the amount of sassafras that could potentially cause cancer in humans remains unknown, one cup of strong sassafras tea is reported to contain as much as 200 mg of safrole, an amount that is four times higher than the amount considered potentially hazardous to humans if consumed regularly.

North Carolina State University Plant Fact Sheet Plant charcteristics and habit

Elizabeth H.
Tue Apr 17 2007
What the last guy didn't tell you, is that the vast majority of safrole is foud in the bark and fruits of the tree. The leaves themselves, provided you cut out the central stem, contain the most miniscule amounts of safrole, trace amounts really. In otherwords, its perfectly healthy to make your own Filet Powder at home, and use it regularly.
Elizabeth H.
Louis Michot Mon Apr 16 2007
Here in South Louisiana, we use the dried Sassafras leaves to make File Gumbo, a.k.a. File (french or Native american, pronounced fee-lay). The dried leaves are ground to a powder, and sprinkled lightly over Gumbo, a roux based liquidy dish with chicken/sausage or seafood, or Okra. The name "gumbo" actually comes from the African word for okra- gumbo. In south Louisiana, okra "file" sassafras. The root is also used to make root beer here.
Elizabeth H.
Christl Sun Sep 17 2006
My Sassafras tree is going to be transferred from my property to my Mother-in-law's property ... Cecilia is her name, she is young and beautiful, and the reason she is going, is that she will be the one tree to honour all of the animals that have been buried upon her property. Finally, she will be out of her pot, and carefully planted into the ground! Always the last one to wake up in the Spring, and the first to change colour in Autumn, I will miss seeing Cecilia the Sassafras tree outside my kitchen windows, backdoor windows, ... when ever I hang up the clothes but I know in my heart, she will be but a hop skip and a jump away ... honouring all the pets that we once so dearly treasured.
Elizabeth H.
Christl Sun Sep 17 2006
Cecilia Update + a question Cecilia the Sassafras was successfully transplanted this morning :) She is amidst many beautiful trees both conifers and deciduous, and is now showing all of her fall colours. A site to behold indeed! One question, is one able to put a broken off branch into some water to root? Cecilia the Sassafras did loose one branch, and if I was able to get it to root, that would make my heart sing:) Christl
Elizabeth H.
Wed Oct 10 2007
If you want to gather sassafras root for medicinal purposes, does it matter when in the year you do it?
Elizabeth H.
Robert Gergulics Sat Apr 11 2009
Pictures here.

Elizabeth H.
Emily Tue Aug 18 2009
I would appreciate it if you included information concerning the carcinogenic properties of safrole, I'm really surprised you missed such a well established property of this plant.
Elizabeth H.
Reville Mon Aug 24 2009
Safrole fed in large doses to rats is carconogenic. but the oil is not the herb. As has been the case with Comfrey studies and other PA containing herbs the experimnetal design is flawed. read this in the case of the safrole studies my issues with its validity go like this 1. They used safrole 2. They used rats - even though rat studies clearly showed tha they metabolise safrole in a different manner to humans 3. They fed the rats massive amounts - around 2% of the diet. That is a lot of safrole when put in the perspective of human usage and an unrealistic comparison. 4. or else they used lower but consistent amounts (0.25%) for half the lifetime of the rat. The rats livers were enlarged and detoxifying enzymes higher - as would be expected if you at that much safrol every day of your life for 35 years. whe the trial stopped the enzymes went down. 5.When Rats which had part of their liver removed were fed safrole, their liver regrew faster than without. Studies using sassafras bark tea showed teh same positive result 6.Studies feeding safrole to mouse babies and pregnant mice lead to an increase in the incidence of cancers in the young animals - in strains of rats bred to get cancer more easily. These are not humans, and we dont give babies sassafras 7.Rats were forcefed large doses of safrole mixed with corn oil, for prolonged periods, which induced liver damage. I want to know how force feeding an animal a food it doesnt choose to eat tells us anything about food safety except that we shouldnt trust what is being forced down our own throats. we are thinking human beings. when we eat something that feels a bit odd, we moderate our intake of it or desist. we eat things periodically and intermittently sassafrass is a spice not a staple and these barbaric tests above performed in the name of safety testing and applied by almost ALL sources and health proffessionals to the public opinion of sassafras. its a disgrace, but unfortunatley its standard practice. sassafras is not safrole, and sassafras is not consumed in anywhere near the quatity OR frequency that these poor rats and mice hand dogs had to endure. if overdosing was the way to test safety then table salt, paracetamol and toothpaste would also be banned. but it isnt and ill say again its a disgrace to the scientific and medical fraternity that they peddle this rubbish science onto the public.
Elizabeth H.
your mama Sat Oct 3 2009
i like the reduction of safrole :)
Elizabeth H.
us Sat Nov 21 2009
Consuming roots, oil directly correlated to liver cancer. Will look for the reference and post back.
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Subject : Sassafras albidum  

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