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Sassafras albidum

Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees

Laurus albidus Nutt.

Laurus sassafras L.

Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees var. molle (Raf.) Fernald

Sassafras officinale Nees & Eberm.

Sassafras sassafras (L.) Karst.

Sassafras variifolium (Salisb.) Kuntze

Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassMagnoliidaeIncludes magnolias, nutmeg, bay laurel, cinnamon, avocado, black pepper, and many others
OrderLauralesTrees and shrubs, including bay laurels, cinnamon, avocado, sassafras and others
FamilyLauraceaeLaurel family, mostly tropical evergreens
GenusSassafrasProbably this is a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage
Speciesalbidum“White”

About plant names...

Sassafras is native to eastern North America. The bark from its roots is processed for sassafras oil, used in perfumes; its leaves produce a spice called gumbo filé.

Identification: Sassafras trees are up to 60' (18 m) tall and 40' (12 m) around, with an irregular trunk and brown bark that is light brown on the inside. The bark develops coarse ridges and furrows over time. Leaves are alternate, most often split into three lobes, sometimes without lobes, and 3-7" (7.6-17 cm) long. The three-lobed leaves look a little like three-fingered mittens. They are very colorful in the fall. The leaves have a fragrant smell when they are crushed, resembling that of eucalyptus or, by some accounts, Juicy Fruit gum. Flowers are a bright yellow-green color, appearing in April to May. Fruits are dark blue, shiny, oval in shape, ¼" (8.5 mm) long, attached to a red petiole (stem) with a cup-shaped tip.

Edibility: Bark from young sassafras roots is mostly used now to perfume soaps, but in the past it has been used to flavor tea and root beer. However, the active ingredient, safarole, is mildly toxic and weakly carcinogenic: it has been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The ground, dried leaves are used to produce gumbo filé, used to flavor and thicken Cajun and Creole gumbos. Filé has, according to spice purveyor McCormick, “a flavor similar to thyme and savory” and “a characteristic citrus flavor.”

Online References:

Sassafras albidum on Erv Evans' site at the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Sassafras albidum at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Sassafras albidum at the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

Sassafras albidum at the USDA Forest Service's Silvics of North America site

Sassafras albidum on the USDA Plants Database

Sassafras albidum at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sassafras albidum on hbd.org (home brewing instructions)

References:

Rätsch, Cristian, The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications, Park Street Press, 1998, p. 465

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/31/2010 · Mt. Lebanon St., Pepperell, MA
≈ 24 × 16" (62 × 41 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

10/15/2006 · Bedford, NH

Sassafras albidum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 1 Jun 2017.

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Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/4/2017 · Tom and Susan's, Pepperell, MA
≈ 6 × 4" (16 × 11 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

10/20/2013 · Barrett Park, Leominster, MA
≈ 11 × 7" (28 × 18 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/4/2017 · Tom and Susan's, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 3½" (13 × 8.7 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

8/14/2009 · Nashua River Rail Trail, East Pepperell, MA
≈ 10 × 15" (26 × 39 cm) ID is uncertain

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/4/2017 · Tom and Susan's, Pepperell, MA
≈ 6 × 4" (15 × 10 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/4/2017 · Tom and Susan's, Pepperell, MA
≈ 5 × 3½" (13 × 9.2 cm)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras, White Sassafras, Ague Tree, Cinnamon Wood, Smelling Stick, Saloop, Gumbo File, Mitten Tree)

5/4/2017 · Tom and Susan's, Pepperell, MA
≈ 6 × 4" (16 × 11 cm)

Range: Zones 4-9:

About this map...