Sassafras, that sweet smelling, enticing smell that reaches your nose when you are walking in the woods and have stepped on a root and accidentally broke it. It then starts peaking people's interest; what can I do with this root that smells like a mixture of licorice and candy.
Where can sassafras be found and distinguishing marks
The sassafras can be considered a tree or sometimes a shrub. It has been found more often in Eastern parts of North America like Maine and as far South as Florida where rich, dark, well drained soil resides. Some sassafras have even been found as far west as Texas and is very common to the state of Virginia and even in parts of eastern Asia, where you might find it on roadsides, in forests or thickets of bushes.
Normally reaching heights between 20 and 40 feet, the sassafras tree has also been known to reach heights of over 100 feet. The young sassafras tree will have dark green bark and as it gets older and ages it will turn a grayish brown sometimes with an orange tint. The older the tree gets the more "wrinkles" the tree gets.
What does it look like
The easiest way to identify sassafras is by its aroma. It gives off a smell that is similar to root beer or licorice. The sassafras tree can have as many as three different types of leaves on it at one time, most often being greenish-yellow and growing in clusters. The flowers most often last a few days for each set of flowers.
The leaves come in various sizes, ranging from 3 to 7 inches and also have different types of shapes as well. They come in a mitten shaped type of leaf, no lobes and up to 3 lobes for each leaf. In the summer time they are a deep green and when fall comes around they turn a rainbow of colors, varying from orange, red, yellow and purple. During the summer there is a dark-blue fruit, called drupes, that hangs from the limbs.
Attractive to wildlife
The sassafras plant is an attraction to lots of wildlife. Caterpillars eat the leaves, as well as deer, cottontails and woodchucks. The stems are considered a delicacy of the American Beaver. In the winter rabbits consider the sassafras plants bark a delicious treat.
The continuation of the Sassafras plant or tree is dependent on the fruits of the plants being eaten by wildlife. Wildlife such as turkeys, mockingbirds, woodpeckers and small mammals eat their fruit. Most of these animals do not digest the seeds of the fruit and later releases (by pooping) the seeds in other parts of the forests and fields.
The roots of the trees are used to help make root beer flavoring. The bark is used to make sassafras tea, which has been known to help with colds, kidney problems and problems with gas. The oil from the sassafras tree has been used as a pain killer, to treat lice, has been used in soaps, perfumes, toothpaste, mouthwash and eye ointments.
Doses too large can cause vomiting, kidney and liver damage and some forms of skin irritation, depending on the person being affected. There have been times when the oil from a sassafras tree has been found to be carcinogenic. Because of this it has been banned from the use in foods in the United States.
Sassafras plants have been known to repel mosquitoes and other insects.
The tree has been referred to as the ornamental tree because of it's oddly shaped leaves.
Sassafras is considered a "pioneer plant" because it was one of the first types of shrubs that grew in fields.
The rich flavor from the sassafras roots have also been put into soups and stews for an unusual additional flavor.
The roots and bark of the sassafras tree has been used to make fuel, lumber and dye.
Some soaps, lotions and medicine flavors have had the addition of oil from this tree, for an unusual, possibly somewhat exotic, smell or flavor.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has determined that some of the substances in sassafras tree products can cause cancer.
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