Sassafras albidum (white sassafras, common sassafras, ague tree, red sassafras, silky sassafras)

description: deciduous tree

place of origin: eastern North America

urban habitat: a pioneer tree common on disturbed sites, it is able to thrive in low pH soils; found on roadsides and in open fields.

ecological function: food and habitat for wildlife.

history: Sassafras albidum has been cultivated since 1630 for its leaves, bark, and wood. Today it is often grown as an ornamental tree for its aromatic scent. The tree has a long history of human. Many Native American tribes used all parts of the tree for medicinal purposes, for treatment of fever, colds, coughs, stomachaches, eyesores, tapeworms, diarrhea, rheumatism, measles, scarlet fever, nosebleeds, venereal diseases, gallstones, bladder pain, and heart ailments. Its leaves were used as a spice and its roots to make a tea. The Cherokee also used its wood to make furniture and its flowers as a fertilizer. Early North American settlers followed suit in finding uses for the tree and boiled an extract from the roots to produce a sweet fermented beer and as a fragrance for soap. Its oil was used as an antiseptic in dentistry. Its roots were used to make root beer until an ingredient in its oil was recognized as a potential carcinogen and its commercial use banned by the FDA. A yellow dye can be obtained from its wood. The smell of sassafras is said to be repellent to mosquitoes and other insects.