Friday, October 23, 2009


Just a little biggie.

I walk past a sassafras tree on my way to work every morning. When I was a kid, someone once showed me how to pick a leaf off a sassafras tree and scratch the stem to release the fragrance. It smells like lemon soap:

"Sassafras trees grow from 50–120 feet) tall with many slender branches, and smooth, orange-brown bark. The branching is sympodial. The bark of the mature trunk is thick, red-brown, and deeply furrowed. The wood is light, hard and sometimes brittle. It can be used to make a serviceable bow if properly worked. All parts of the plants are very fragrant. The species are unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns on the same plant, unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped), and trilobed (three pronged); rarely the leaves can be five-lobed. The young leaves and twigs are quite mucilaginous, and produce a citrus-like scent when crushed. The fruit are blue-black, egg-shaped, 1 cm long, produced on long, red-stalked cups, and mature in late summer.The largest Sassafras tree in the United States is located in Owensboro, Kentucky. The name "Sassafras," applied by the botanist Nicolas Monardes in the sixteenth century, is said to be a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage.

"Steam distillation of dried root bark produces an essential oil consisting mostly of safrole that once was extensively used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food and for aromatherapy. Safrole is a precursor for the clandestine manufacture of the drug MDMA (ecstasy), and as such, its transport is monitored internationally.

"The dried and ground leaves are used to make filé powder, a spice used in the making of some types of gumbo. The roots of Sassafras can be steeped to make tea and were used in the flavoring of root beer until being banned by the FDA. Sassafras tea can be used as an anticoagulant. Sassafras was a commodity prized in Europe as a cure for gonorrhea."



  1. Why and when did the FDA ban it? I don't remember an ecstasy-related ban in the 80s.
    Also, Owensboro, Kentucky is also the home of Moonlite Barbecue!

  2. They thought it caused liver damage:
    "In 1960, the FDA banned the use of sassafras oil and safrole in foods and drugs based on the animal studies and human case reports.[10] Several years later sassafras tea was banned,[10] a ban which lasted until the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994.[11]"

    Weird, huh? But that esctasy thing might be bogus.

    I've been meaning to do a post about Moonlite Barbecue! I could create an "Owensboro, Kentucky" label. :P