Once well known and now banned by the FDA; here is a look at what happened to the main ingredient of root beer.
Out of of 25 or more natural health books consulted, only two referred to sassafras. The beautiful and fragrant tree has much to offer, however, research indicates it is not recommended for consumption.
One online source gives us two different expected growth heights on their web page. First it states the shade tree can grow 20 feet high, but is usually shorter in the south, and in another paragraph it states “The Sassafras Shade Tree usually has better success if its saplings are container-grown. The Sassafras Shade Tree is a tall, beautiful native tree that grows anywhere from 30-60 ft. tall.”
The tree is remarkable in that the beautiful multicolored leaves can be one to three lobes even on the same tree.
It is fragrant.
Was once used as a main ingredient in root beer
Was once used to treat soldiers ailments, but was reported to create highs and hallucinations
Grows throughout Easter U.S., Canada, and Texas. (zone 5)
Today because of safrole, found in sassafras, the FDA regulates the use.
Although the deer nibble on the leaves they do not consume enough to cause concern.
Here is a young sapling. Check out the leave formations. Just as they advised, some leaves have one lobe, some two and some three.
The American Horticultural Society created a book called Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening: Herbs and Spices. This book states although the sassafras tree likes a warm and sunny location it will grow almost in any soil, requires little water, and will grow well in the north. It should be propagated from seeds, suckers or root cuttings. The roots and bark are used in scented potpourri, dried and powdered leaves in gumbo, and the roots in tea.
The Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) grows in a pyramid shape and can reach more than 60 feet. In the spring it will bloom with small yellow flowers and light green leaves. It will then bear blue fruit on red stalks and the leaves will change to yellow, orange and bright red in the fall.
Though the roots were once used to flavor root beer, the oils contained in them contain a carcinogen. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs tells us that the tree has given us three wonderful aromas which are used in perfumes and soaps – Florida Forest Trees:
The roots smell like root beer
The leaves smell of citrus
The wood smells of a medicine (used to treat athlete’s foot).
The tree was one of the first trees exported from the New World. Its tea was well known to our first settlers and highly recommended for its flavor and healing properties. It was once used to treat a variety of ailments from spasms to syphilis, but because testing on rodents showed the consumption to cause liver cancer it was outlawed for sale in 1960. It still boasts healing properties when used externally as the root bark contains antiseptic properties.