Sassafras is a medium to large tree that is native to North America, growing abundantly in the eastern half of the continent. Each tree usually has three types of different shaped leaves: a three lobed finger-like leaf, a mitten shaped leaf, and a single oval shaped leaf. When the leaves or bark are crushed, they give off a pleasant aromatic sent reminiscent of root beer. In fact, root beer was first made using the roots of sassafras, although this is no longer an ingredient.
The tree has green or yellow flowers that bloom in April and May. In August and October, the tree bears fleshy blue fruits that are enjoyed by songbirds, bobwhites, wild turkeys and black bears. The twigs of the sassafras tree are also part of the diet of marsh rabbits and white tail deer.
Human beings have also found many uses for sassafras. The lumber derived from the tree is sturdy, thick, and coarse, and it is commonly used for making rustic barrels, buckets, small boats, canoes, and furniture. Yellow or orange dye can also be made from the bark. Sassafras is also a good source of firewood, because it is slow to burn and releases a pleasant fragrance.
Sassafras has many medicinal qualities. For centuries, people have been using this plant as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. It is also used to thin the blood and increase liver function by helping to remove toxins from the body. Some other uses include treatment for rheumatism, breaking a tobacco habit, treating skin rashes and use as a stimulant. Centuries ago, in Europe, it was used to treat syphilis.
Tea is made from the leaves and roots of the tree and is a common way for people to reap the plant's medicinal benefits. Many people simply enjoy the flavor. However, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of sassafras in food and beverages because it contains safrole, an oil believed to be carcinogenic.