Sassafras is an aromatic tree from the laurel family. Its roots and root bark provide an oil used to perfume soap and to flavor tea and root beer. The tree was thought to be a cure-all by Spanish colonists and its root bark was shipped in large quantities to Europe. Its new growth and leaf stalks are edible. They have a spicy, gummy flavor said to be quite pleasant. Sassafras is the northernmost representative of the laurel family,
Find the right location. Sassafras is native to the United States and has a range from eastern Texas and northern Florida in the south and southern Ontario in the north. It can be found in central Michigan south to Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma all the way to the east coast and in every state along the coast.
Find the right conditions. Sassafras grows best in moist, well-drained soil but can grow in almost any soil conditions including sandy loams and infertile soil. In its northern ranges, the tree rarely grows beyond shrub size, and in the sandy soils of the south rarely grows beyond sapling height. According to the Forest Service, sassafras grows best in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. There, it can grow anywhere from 35 to 50 feet.
Look for mitten-shaped leaves. Leaves are bright green and are either two lobed and mitten shaped or three lobed. This variation can occur within the same tree. The leaves have excellent fall color turning varying shades of red and gold. The sassafras tree branches horizontally with the leaves grouped in cloud-like tiers.
Look for pale yellow flowers. Sassafras trees bloom from March to April. Flowers bloom in pale yellow-green balls and are copious only on female trees. Male trees do flower, but sparsely. Sassafras trees fruit in late summer; look for blue fruits on bright red stalks.