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Sassafras albidum - (Nutt.)Nees.

Common Name Sassafras, Common Sassafras
Family Lauraceae
USDA hardiness 5-9
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    (5 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Sassafras albidum Sassafras, Common Sassafras

Sassafras albidum Sassafras, Common Sassafras


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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.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf from April to October, in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from September to October. The species is 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.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


S. officinale. S. sassafras. Laurus albida.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Canopy; Secondary; Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Shoots
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].

References   More on Edible Uses

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].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Companion  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].

Special Uses

Food Forest  Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

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. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 8 through 3. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. A sprouting standard sending up shoots from the base [1-2]. The root pattern is a tap root similar to a carrot going directly down [1-2]. The root pattern is suckering with new plants from underground runners away from the plant [1-2].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

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].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Atherosperma moschatumBlack SassafrasTree30.0 8-11  LMHSNM223

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

patrik   Thu May 12 2005

future uses for sassafras?

Cathy Harragian   Thu Sep 1 2005

how about an ornamental tree?

Rich (webwever)   Mon May 1 2006

How exciting another test message.

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.

Micheline   Sat Jul 29 2006

I live in Quebec, Canada. Where can I find the seeds?

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

   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.

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.

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.

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

   Wed Oct 10 2007

If you want to gather sassafras root for medicinal purposes, does it matter when in the year you do it?

Robert Gergulics   Sat Apr 11 2009

Pictures here. Photorobg.com


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.

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 http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v16je22.htm 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.

your mama   Sat Oct 3 2009

i like the reduction of safrole :)

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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