Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Mitten Tree, Saloop, Smelling Stick
Synonym(s): Laurus albidus, Laurus sassafras, Sassafras albidum var. molle, Sassafras officinale, Sassafras sassafras, Sassafras variifolium
The aromatic sassafras is a 35-50 ft., deciduous tree with horizontal branching in cloud-like tiers. The mahogany-brown bark is deeply ridged and furrowed. Little bunches of yellow-green flower balls are scattered profusely over the female tree; more sparsely on the male. Dark-blue fruits on scarlet stalks appear on female plants in late summer. Bright-green, mitten-shaped, oval, or three-lobed leaves have outstanding fall color.
The roots and root bark supply oil of sassafras (used to perfume soap) and sassafras tea, and have been used to flavor root beer. Explorers and colonists thought the aromatic root bark was a panacea, or cure-all, 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 in the middle of the 16th century. This is the northernmost New World representative of an important family of tropical timbers.