Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sassafras

Sassafras (Sassafras albidium) is an easily identified tree.  If you find a tree with three types of leaves -- entire or with two or three lobes -- and a pleasant fragrance when you scratch the stem, you've likely found Sassafras.

Photo of Sassafras leaves

Sassafras is found throughout much of the eastern US, but is less common north of Massachusetts.  It grows abundantly in Plainville, where I typically find families of young trees along sunny forest edges.

Dried, crushed, and added to soups, Sassafras leaves provide both a unique flavor and a thickening quality.  I've not used them in large enough quantities to notice the thickening action, but I do enjoy the flavor.  Commercially, dried Sassafras leaves are sold as filé powder and are a traditional thickener of many Louisiana gumbos.

Photo of Sassafras twig

Once you've found this tree, give a young twig a scratch.  Smell it once and you'll never forget it.

Sassafras flowers early in the green season.  I found these female flowers in late April.

Photo of Sassafras flowers

Whether you eat the leaves or not, do take an opportunity to acquaint yourself with this spicy tree.  And if you missed the first post in this series, check out Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sweet-fern.

2 thoughts on “Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sassafras”

    1. My research has led me to a different conclusion. Arthur Haines writes the following in his book Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2, 2015, p.66):

      “Understand how the FDA comes to this conclusion: highly refined extracts are delivered at high doses over long periods of time to laboratory animals living on a nutrient poor diet; when cancer develops in the test subjects, the FDA reports it is carcinogenic and prohibits its sale.”

      He goes on to say that short-term, moderate use of this plant as food or medicine should not be a cause for concern. Check out his entire profile of Sassafras to find out why you might indeed want to consume this plant.

Leave a Comment or Question