The hardy sassafras grows wild in nearly any soil from Southern Ontario to Florida and as far west as Texas, commonly reaching heights of 30 to 59 feet with a trunk width of 28 to 59 Inches. Its branches spread from 25 to 39 feet. In optimal conditions with moist sandy loam soil, a few Sassafras trees have grown to heights of up to100 feet.
Adaptability Sassafras will grow in nearly any condition. Its size will be determined by soil and weather conditions. While it will grow in pure sand or even gravel, it will not grow beyond sapling size in such poor soil. Sassafras has grown successfully in many climates from subtropical to arid. It can commonly be found in forests, along fence rows and in open fields. It is able to automatically adjust its growing season so that its leaves fall at the appropriate times, even in climates that are foreign to it.
Appearance The most unique feature of the sassafras tree is that it has three different kinds of leaves. On the same tree you will find oval leaves, mitten shaped leaves and tri-lobed leaves. Occasionally one may find a five lobed leaf on a sassafras tree, but these are rare, like four leafed clovers. In spring the sassafras burst forth with tiny five petal yellow blossoms. Its fruit is dark blue and ovoid in shape.
Medicinal Sassafras was prized by many Native American tribes for its medicinal qualities. They also believed that sassafras had the power to ward off evil spirits. European settlers soon learned to prize sassafras as a cure for scurvy, kidney diseases, pain, infection, fevers and skin sores. It was even believed to cure venereal diseases. Because of its disease fighting properties, sassafras was among the leading exports from the colonies to Europe. Modern science confirmed that analgesic and antiseptic properties of sassafras.
Culinary Uses Sassafras was the principle ingredient of root beer until the 1960s when artificial flavors and colors were developed to replace the flavor and delicious smell of sassafras. Many people still enjoy tea made from sassafras root and bark. File powder, a common ingredient of gumbo is made from dried and ground sassafras leaves. File powder was used first by Southern Native Americans, and adopted by the Creoles of Louisiana.
The sassafras is a hearty tree that will thrive in most environments and at least survive nearly anywhere. It is a good choice for those who enjoy raising their own herbs, are interested in diverse botany, or enjoy the legendary mystical properties of this fascinating tree.
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