Aromatic tree or thicket-forming shrub with variously shaped leaves and narrow, spreading crown of short, stout branches.
Height: 30-60’ / Diameter: 1.5’ sometimes larger.
Leaves: 3-5” long. Elliptical; not toothed;long slender leafstalks. Shiny green above, paler and often hairy beneath; turning yellow, orange, or red in autumn. Bark: gray-brown, becoming thick and deeply furrowed. Flowers: ⅜” long; yellow-green; several clustered at ends of leafless twigs in early spring; male and female usually on separate trees. Fruit: elliptical shiny bluish-black berries; each in red cup on long red stalk; maturing in autumn.
Habitat: Moist, particularly sandy, soils of uplands and valleys; often in old fields, clearings, and forest openings. Range: Maine south to central Florida, west to Texas.
The roots and root bark supply oil of sassafras (used to perfume soap) and sassafras tea, and have been used to flavor root beer. Exploreres and colonists thought the aromatic root bark was a panacea for diseases and shipped quantities to Europe. The greenish twigs and leafstalks have a pleasant, spicy, slightly gummy taste. Sassafras apparently is the American Indian name used by the Spanish and French settlers in Florida. This is the northernmost New World representative of an important family of timbers.