Scientific name: Sassafras albidum
Abundance: uncommon
What: twigs, roots, leaves
How: drinks, candy
Where: forest edge
When: all year though roots are most flavorful if harvested in late winter
Nutritional Value: none
Dangers: My lawyer says I have to warn you that drinking sassafras tea could harm you even though the compound thought to be dangerous, safrole, is destroyed by the boiling water.

Leaf Arrangement: Leaves are alternately arranged along the stems.

Leaf Shape: The leaves are variable, featuring three distinct shapes on the same tree—oval, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed.

Leaf Venation: The venation is pinnate.

Leaf Margin: Leaf margins are smooth.

Leaf Color: The upper surface of the leaves is shiny green, while the underside may have a paler hue.

Flower Structure: Small, yellow-green flowers are arranged in loose clusters.

Flower Color: The flowers are typically yellow-green and are found on separate male and female trees.

Fruit: The fruit is a dark blue-black drupe borne on a red stalk.

Seed: The seeds are small, dark, and enclosed within the drupe.

Bark: The bark is smooth and green on younger branches, becoming rougher and brown on mature trunks.

Hairs: The plant may have fine hairs on young stems and leaves.

Height: Sassafras trees can range from small shrubs to medium-sized trees, reaching heights of 20 to 40 feet.

Sassafras leaves

Three types of leaves.

Small sassafras tree.

Sassafras tree bark. As they mature the bark turns from green to grayish.

Here's a bunch of seedlings (greenish trunks) around a mother sassafras tree (brown trunk).
Sassafras Suckers

Close-up of Sassafras flowers, which appear in the spring before the leaves. (Picture taken end of February in Houston).
Sassafras flowers

Sassafras berries, appearing in July in East Texas. Photo curtesy of Sassafras Susette Renfro-Taylor.
Sassafras Susette Renfro-Taylor

Close-up of sassafras berry. Photo curtesy of Sassafras Susette Renfro-Taylor.
Sassafras Susette Renfro-Taylor

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Easily identifiable small tree, just look for the three types of leaves all on one tree. One leaf has three lobes, one has two lobes that look like a mitten, and the third leaf will be unlobed.

Root beer was originally flavored by the roots of sassafras harvested in late winter. Twigs collected at this time will also supply the root beer flavoring with the most concentrated amounts of flavor is found in the root bark of "suckers" growing around the base of the tree.

Young sassafras leaves are dried, then pounded into a fine Filé powder used in gumbo and other Cajun cooking. Filé powder shouldn't be boiled when cooked as this makes it stringy and alters the flavor. It is better added to the meal in a small serving dish for people to add to the already-cooked gumbo.

Euell Gibbons used to smoke a daily pipe mixture of peppermint, betony and sassafras in hopes that the medicinal properties of these plants would help undo damage done by his daily smoking of tobacco.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

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