|THE METROPOLITAN NATURALIST
|Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Sassafras grows as a small tree at the edges of woods. Recognize Sassafras by the three types of leaves on
one plant - an oval leaf with no lobes, a mitten shaped leaf, and a three lobed leaf. The crushed leaf or stem
has a distinct aromatic smell.
Sassafras flowers in the early spring before the leaves appear. The flowers are yellow and have five petals.
Trees are either male or female, with male (staminate) flowers and female (pistillate) flowers on separate trees.
The fruit (on female trees only) is a small blue-black berry.
The mucilaginous leaves of Sassafras have been used to thicken soups. The twigs, leaves, and roots are
steeped in hot water to make an aromatic tea. Historically, Sassafras root was used to make root beer.
Sassafras contains Safrole, 4-allyl-1,2-methylenedioxy-benzene, which has been shown to be carcinogenic.
The FDA has banned the use of safrole in food since 1960.
As a kid I was not aware of the potential carcinogenic effects of sassafras, so I could fearlessly enjoy sassafras.
I have tried cooking with the leaves, which add a mucilaginous consistency to soups. I did not like the flavor in
my own cooking, but a better cook than I could probably put together some tasty dishes with it. A tea or
decoction made from the roots is very good and I occasionally enjoyed a cup of Sassafras root tea by a
campfire after dinner.
Fall foliage of a sassafras tree.
A small sassafras tree in late fall.
Leafless branches of the sassafras tree remain green all winter.