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Sassafras

Scientific Name(S): Sassafras albidum (Nuttal) Nees, synonymous with S. officinale Nees et Erbem. and S. variifolium Kuntze. Family: Lauraceae

Common Name(S): Sassafras, saxifras, ague tree, cinnamon wood, saloop

Sassafras is a genus of two species of deciduous trees in the family Lauraceae, native to eastern North America and eastern Asia.

Sassafras trees grow from 15-35 m tall and 70-150 cm diameter, with many slender branches, and smooth, orange-brown bark. The branching is sympodial. The bark of the mature trunk is thick, red-brown, and deeply furrowed. The wood is light, soft, weak, and brittle. All parts of the plants are very fragrant.

Sassafras was touted in Europe as America's herbal curative because of purported miraculous outcomes from the sick who drank sassafras tea. Those claims were exaggerated but the tree did prove to have attractive aromatic qualities and the "rootbeer" flavor of the root's tea (now considered a mild carcinogen) was enjoyed by Native Americans .  S. albidum leaf shapes, along with the aromas, are definitive identifiers.   Young sassafras seedlings are usually unlobed.  Older trees add mitten-shaped leaves with two or three lobes.

Uses of Sassafras:

Essential oil distilled from the root-bark or the fruit was used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food (sassafras tea and candy flavoring) and for aromatherapy. The smell of sassafras oil is said to make an excellent repellent for mosquitoes and other insects, which makes it a nice yard plant.

Side Effects of Sassafras:

Sassafras can induce vomiting, stupor and hallucinations. It can also cause abortion, diaphoresis and dermatitis.


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