A Brief History of the Sassafras Tree
The sassafras tree is most known for its flavorful roots. You might have guessed that this tree’s roots and bark are responsible for the popular drink root beer, which is not a “beer” at all. This tree is native to the North American continent, particularly found from Ontario through Maine, in Texas, Kansas, Michigan, and parts of Florida.
The sassafras tree is a decent size with recorded heights capping out around 75 to 100 feet tall at maturity. The typical sassafras tree, however, generally reaches about 25 feet at its mature height. The leaves have three rounded points and are yellow or green in color. They also produce a sweet fragrant aroma. The flowers on this tree are yellow and bloom in the late spring, and of course they too are fragrant with the sassafras’s unique smell. In the early autumn months this tree produces small fruit about the size of a pea. Although this tree is naturally found in select spots all over the North American continent, it can grow virtually anywhere as long as the temperature does not drop lower than -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The sassafras is, however, quite hardy when it comes to tolerating dry, warm weather, plus it isn’t overly particular when it comes to soil requirements.
Historical Uses of the Sassafras Tree
The sassafras has been put to use throughout history. While we often associate it with a flavorful drink, there are so many other uses for the sassafras roots, bark, pith, and leaves. This plant was of particular use to many Native American Indian tribes. They were particularly fond of making medicinal concoctions with this plant to treat a number of ailments. A tea-like drink was made using the bark of the sassafras tree’s roots and was drank to treat common maladies such as diarrhea, cold and flu, bad breath, obesity, and fever. A similar concoction was also used to treat more serious conditions such as measles and tapeworm. They also believed that sassafras could be used to detoxify the body and would often apply a paste made from the leaves of the sassafras tree to treat injuries such as cuts, bruises, bites, and scrapes.
But medicinal treatments are just one of the many uses of this tree. The culinary world opened up a new opportunity for this fragrant plant. The leaves have often been added to soups and meat dishes much in the way one would use a bay leaf, which is to include the leaf during the cooking process and remove it before serving. Cajun food, often referred to as Louisiana cuisine, traditionally includes ground sassafras root as a seasoning for several popular dishes. Cultures all over the world also used sassafras root to make a comforting and tasty tea. Sassafras soon made a place for itself in the material world, as the wood of this tree was used in wood work such as furniture and the oils from the sassafras were often used in soap and other toiletries.
Many people still keep this species of tree around, and indeed some even plant them. This tree is still used to make root beer, however landscaping seems to be the most common use today. As the average sassafras is considered a medium-sized tree in comparison to similar trees in nature, the sassafras is often used to landscape smaller plots of land. It provides a more “natural” look to a man-made environment and is thoroughly enjoyable in the autumn when the leaves turn shades of orange, red, and yellow. A quality that many people prefer about the sassafras is that it doesn’t seem to attract any pests, which is an important item to consider if one has (or wants to have) this tree around.
Although many of us rarely give thought to the sassafras tree, it certainly has a firm place within American history and has proven itself to be of many uses to people all over the world!