Sassafras albidum

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Plant Guide


Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees

Plant Symbol = SAAL5

Contributed by: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

© William S. Justice


Alternate Names

Common sassafras, ague tree


Ethnobotanic: All parts of the sassafras plant are spicy and aromatic. The roots, bark, leaves, new shoots, and pith from the branches of sassafras were used extensively for a wide variety of purposes by many Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Creek, Delaware, Oklahoma, Houma, Iroquois, Koasati, Mohegan, Nanticoke, Rappahannock, and Seminole. The medicinal uses of sassafras by Native Americans were many. Infusions made from the bark of the roots were taken internally as a preventive to ward off fever, as well as a remedy to treat diarrhea, rheumatism, measles, and scarlet fever. An infusion of the roots was used as a blood purifier, and as a dietary aid to treat “overfattness.” Infusions of the plant were used as a cough medicine, mouthwash, and gargle for colds. Root infusions were also used to treat fevers that occurred in women after giving birth and as a wash for eyesores. Decoctions made from roots were used to treat heart troubles. An infusion of the plant was mixed with whiskey and used for rheumatism, tapeworms, and as a blood remedy to purify the blood. The leaves were made into a poultice that would be rubbed onto bee stings, wounds, cuts, sprained ankles, and bruises.

Nosebleeds were treated with a decoction made from

Plant Materials

the pith of new sprouts. The pith from branches was made into a decoction used to wash and dress burns. Infusions of the plant were used to treat lower chest pain, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea. The bark was used as an emetic purification after funeral ceremonies. Bark infusions were given to babies and children to treat itching, enlarged eyes, fever, drooling, and loss of appetite. Children with worms drank and were bathed in an infusion that included the bark of sassafras. The plant was taken to treat gallstones and bladder pain. In addition to this variety of medicinal uses, sassafras was used for food, construction and other purposes. The leaves were used fresh as a spice, much like bay leaves, for flavoring in meat soups. Leaves were dried and pounded and used as a thickening agent and to add flavor to foods and soups. “Filé”, made from the ground roots or leaves, is an important spice used today in Cajun foods, such as gumbo. The white or red roots, made a pleasant-tasting tea, although the red roots were preferred. The wood from the sassafras tree was used to make furniture. The flowers were used as a fertilizer when planting beans. The plant was used as a fragrance to scent soap. The bark contains oil of sassafras, an important flavoring.

Wildlife: The fruits are readily eaten by wildlife. Birds, such as quails, wild turkeys, kingbirds, crested flycatchers, mockingbirds, sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, yellowthroat warblers and phoebes eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. Black bears, beaver, rabbits and squirrels eat the fruit, bark and wood.

White-tailed deer browse the twigs and foliage.

Other: Sassafras has been cultivated since 1630 for its leaves, bark, and wood. The plants are used for tea, oil, and soap. The heartwood is orange-brown and course-grained. It is used for purposes requiring lightwood, such as boat construction, because it is soft but durable.

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