Sassafras albidumCulture: Although this species can fix its own nitrogen and thus tolerates poor soils, it has a slow to moderate growth rate and is moderately difficult to establish. As a pioneer tree, it is usually found in old fields and thickets. The roots were once used to create root beer, but saffrole has been banned for use in human foods by the FDA since it was found to be carcinogenic in laboratory rats. Despite the potential health concerns, bundles of split root sections are still commonly sold at roadside markets in the fall to make sassafras tea. It was also used as a treatment for poison ivy, and an eyewash made from the bark was used by Native Americans. Although sassafras is susceptible to cankers, leaf spots, wilt, root rot, mildew, weevils, scales, and Japanese beetles, these problems do not often occur and are usually not serious. Chlorosis may occur in non-acidic soils.
Usage: This handsome tree makes an excellent choice in naturalized landscapes, providing a brilliant splash of fall coloration. Around residences, it requires little or no upkeep, and so is a good choice for low-maintenance gardens. The snow-laden branches often look interesting in the winter, accentuating the sympodial branching pattern and making it quite a spectacle.