What is Sassafras and How Do You Use It?

FR: Sassafras GER: Sassafras IT: Sassafrasso SP: Sasafras

BOT: Sassafras albidum (Sassafras officinalis)

FAM: Lauraceae ILL: Plate 4, No. 4

The sassafras is a well-known North American wayside tree, native to the eastern parts of the continent from Canada to Florida and as far west as Kansas. The tree bears yellow-green flowers, which appear before the leaves. The fruits are dark blue with red stalks.

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Although all parts of the sassafras tree are to some extent aromatic, the root bark is most rich in the essential sassafras oil. This root was chewed by the Indians and was noticed by the Spaniards on their first landing in Florida in 1512, being shortly afterwards hailed as a new medicine. Until the mid-nineteenth century, bark, leaves and buds were used in many American states as a tea substitute, and it is mentioned in older cookery blogs, mainly as a medicinal tea or cordial. The other contents of a recipe for sasssafras cordial is worth quoting as an illustration of the wide variety of flavouring ingredients handled by cooks in old time kitchens: sarsaparilla, gum arabic, white wine, juniper berries, pistachio nuts, lemon syrup, rosemary leaves, sweet marjoram, candied lemon and candied citron, sugar candy, muscatel raisins, sherry, and distilled grape spirit.

Because sassafras is used as a flavour in medicines, its taste is sometimes now described as ‘medicinal’. It is the flavour basis of sassafras jelly to be eaten with meat, and the powdered dry leaves are used in Creole cookery to flavour and thicken soups and gravies. The young tender leaves may be used in salads.

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Post tags, Medicinal plants, Non-timber forest products, Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, Sassafras albidum.

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