Sassafras: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on sassafras

Sassafras albidum is a medium-sized deciduous tree of the Lauraceae family. Sassafras trees can reach heights of up to 15–20 meters and gain a trunk diameter of up to 60 cm. The tree's crown is formed by many slender sympodial branches. Mature trees have thick dark red-brown bark that is deeply furrowed. Initially shoots are bright yellow green with mucilaginous bark, later turning reddish brown, and in a couple of years the shoots begin to show shallow fissures.

The green to yellow-green leaves are alternate, ovate or obovate, 10–16 cm in length and 5–10 cm in width with a short, slender, slightly grooved petiole. The leaves are have three different shapes: three-lobed leaves, unlobed elliptical leaves, and two-lobed leaves (on rare occasion there can be more than 3 lobes). All of these shapes can appear on the same branch. Sassafras leaves turn to shades of yellow, tinged with red during autumn.

In early spring before the appearance of leaves, yellow to greenish-yellow flowers are produced in loose, drooping, few-flowered racemes up to 5 cm long. They have five or six tepals.

The sassafras tree is usually dioecious, the male and female flowers grow on separate trees; and pollination is by insects. The male flowers have nine stamens, while the female flowers have six staminodes (aborted stamens) and a 2–3 mm style on a superior ovary.

The tree's fruit is a 1 cm long dark blue-black drupe that contains a single seed, it is borne on a 2 cm long red fleshy club-shaped pedicel. The fruit ripens in late summer, and seeds are dispersed by birds. The cotyledons are thick and fleshy. The tree's roots are fleshy and thick, and they often produce root sprouts which are able to develop into new trees. The entire tree is aromatic and spicy.

common names & nomenclature The common name of sassafras is from the late 16th century Spanish sasafrás, based on Latin saxifraga "saxifrage."

Also known as:
silky sassafras, white sassafras, cinnamon wood, ague tree, saloip, saxifrax

Sassafras, the flavor and fragrance enhancer tree
Sassafras: Where in the World
habitat and range for sassafras

Sassafras albidum is native to eastern North America, from southern Maine and southern Ontario west to Iowa, and south to central Florida and eastern Texas.

Sassafras: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting sassafras

Sassafras occurs at altitudes of sea level up to 1,500 meters all throughout the eastern deciduous forest habitat.

Sassafras trees prefer a rich, well-drained sandy loam (pH of 6–7), however they will grow in any loose, moist soil.

As soon as seed are ripe, sow in a cold frame. Stored seed requires cold stratification at 4°C for four months. The seed is best sown as early in the year as possible. Transplant out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as possible and grow them on in the greenhouse. Grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter and then plant them out in early summer.

Sassafras roots are usually harvested during the fall. Only the outer part or the “bark” of the root is used, dry for later use.

Store dried sassafras root bark in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.