Plants and People Project

Sassafras - Sassafras albidum

Native Americans use the leaves for a medicine for stomachaches. Sassafras is the American Indian name for the tree. The name was adopted by the Europeans.

Sassafras has tree different leaf shapes on the same tree and branch. One shape looks like a mitten.

Root bark Tea was famous as a spring tonic. Medicinal Plants

The tonic was made from the bark of the root. The Herbalist

Sassafras flavored tea syrup is sold in many grocery stores even today.

My grandfather, Francis "Jim" Hunter, taught us to cook hot dogs over an open fire by impaling the hot dogs (long ways) on sticks cut from a sassafras trees. The flavor it gives the meat always reminds me of him.

"The Choctaw Indians first used the dried ground leaves as a seasoning and thickener, and today the dried leaves are used to make filé powder (gumbo filé) which is used to thicken and flavor soups and stews in Créole cooking." Food Facts

The roots and root bark supply oil of sassafras which is used to perfume soaps.

Some root beers were made using sassafras. In 1960s the use of sassafras in foods was banned after researchers found it contain a liver toxin. Ironically, chemicals are used to replace the flavor in root beer today.

"Many a settler's wife kept her winter clothes and bed clothing in her chest free from moths and other pests by spreading handsful of sassafras roots among them. Many farmers made their chicken roosts from sassafras poles. The odor from the poles kept the chickens free from mites." Tales of the Alleghenies

In the 1700s, people in the Philadelphia area used the bark of the sassafras to dye wools an orange color. Natural dyes and Home Dyeing.

Birds are attracted to the fruit. The leaves are a larval food for swallowtail butterflies. Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly

spicebush swallowtail butterfly

Article on the many virtues of Sassafras

Angiosperm families off site

What tree is it? off site


DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past. Be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Identification and other facts / More facts

Sassafras leaves

Sassafras leaves showing all three shapes


small sassafras tree with summer foliage

sassafras flowers

Sassafras flowers

sassafras fall color

Sassafras turns several beautiful colors in autumn

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Posted 7/27/05 Cindy O'Hora