Is the Sassafras Tree Banned? How To Plant, Identify, and Grow Sassafras

Image of a sassafras tree that outlines how to identify sassafras tree leaves, bark, flowers, seeds, how to grow sassafras trees, and sassafras tree smell.

The brilliant fall foliage of a Sassafras tree makes it stand out in any garden.

But, did you know that this tree is also associated with safrole, a substance which has been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on health grounds?

However, a Sassafras tree is both aromatic and visually stunning, prompting many with a desire to plant and cultivate this tree.

Before learning how to plant and care for a Sassafras tree, you’ll need to make sure that the variety you choose is safe.

This complete guide outlines everything you need to know about the Sassafras tree before you get started.

Quick Introduction to the Sassafras Tree: Facts and Attributes

The following traits of Sassafras Tree give it a distinct identity to experts, while also making it easier for everyone else to recognize and categorize it among other types of trees.1

Sassafras Tree

(Sassafras albidum)

Sassafras tree in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Lauraceae
  • Genus: Sassafras
  • Leaf: Green outside of fall; yellow, orange, and scarlet in fall; with different shapes including spoon, mitten, and fork
  • Bark: Smooth and green for younger trees, furrowed and reddish-brown for older trees
  • Seed: Reddish-brown, circular shape
  • Blossoms: Yellow
  • Fruit: Dark blue
  • Native Habitat: North America, East Asia
  • Height: 30-60 Feet
  • Canopy: 25-40 Feet
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Apart from its unique quality of producing three different shapes of leaves at once,5 the Sassafras Tree also stands tall among other plants with the noticeable aroma that it emits through its different parts.

While its twigs hold a lemon-like scent, its bark boasts of a cinnamon-like fragrance.

Additionally, its root, which remains popular for once being the main ingredient in commercial root beer, has a spicy and sweet aroma to it.6 As a result, with Sassafras, you can get a different scent from all parts of a tree.

Learning how to identify Sassafras Tree through its leaves and aroma has also led the tree to gain other names such as the Mitten Tree, Cinnamon Tree, and Smelling-Stick. To many, it is also known as the Ague Tree.2

Why Has the FDA Banned Sassafras Trees?

The FDA has banned the usage of Sassafras Tree as a food additive because of safrole,7 an organic compound that is found in the tree bark and which can possibly cause cancer.

The FDA classified safrole as a carcinogen after studies on laboratory rats showed a correlation between the consumption of safrole and the development of cancer.

Closeup of Sassafras albidum showing deep-fissured branches and green leaves.

(Image: Douglas Goldman29)

But given that the correlation of safrole and cancer is related to significant consumption of the substance over a prolonged time, some argue that the classification is incorrect and needs to be revised.9 To give weight to this argument, the existence of safrole in popular spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg as well as their widespread usage in food is often presented as a point of contention.8

Today, Sassafras has largely been replaced as the key ingredient in root beer by artificial Sassafras flavor. Any manufacturer that still uses Sasafras as a food additive in root beer or other products first removes safrole from it.9

With that being said, Sassafras extract, root, and oil is still available to buy via commercial sellers in different compositions. Other Sassafras food products include filé powder, which is made from Sassafras Tree leaves and used in Cajun cooking.5

Due to Sassafras Tree disease prevention properties, which have not been proven by scientific studies,10 many people also use Sassafras extract to try finding relief from certain conditions. Sassafras Tree has also been utilized by Native Americans in medicinal applications.11

This means that if you want to use Sassafras root bark or any of its other ingredients in your home-brewed root beer or other recipes, you may find various ways to add the natural Sassafras flavor to your food.

However, you need to keep the health warnings by the FDA in mind and make an informed decision about your well-being.

Since the Sassafras Tree is banned for food additives only, you can easily grow the Sassafras Tree in your home without violating the law.

Due to the tree’s tall structure, beautiful fall foliage, and layered canopy with differently-shaped leaves, it makes a great addition to any garden.

Its aromatic qualities further add to these benefits and make it a sought after tree to grow under your care.

Sassafras Tree Growing Zone Information

In order to thrive, every plant requires a habitat that makes for ideal growth conditions. If the temperature and associated environmental conditions are not suitable for the plant, it would not flourish to its full extent.

This makes it important for you to follow growth zone guidelines that are outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map defines which locations are the most favorable for different species of plants.12

The zones are categorized by their average minimum winter temperature in a year. They are then labeled by numbers that range from 1-13.

The ideal Sassafras Tree growing zone is classified within the range of 4-9 on the USDA map.4,13 Learning this information allows you to determine whether you can ideally plant and grow the Sassafras Tree within your garden.

After learning this information, you can feel more confident in your pursuit of how to plant, identify, and grow Sassafras in a way that heightens your chances of success.

How To Identify Sassafras Tree

Learning how to identify Sassafras Tree is simple if you know what to look for.

Sassafras tree identification chart showing Sassafras tree leaf, Sassafras tree flowers, Sassafras tree seed pod, and Sassafras Tree bark images in circle frames on a green background.

You can keep the following points in mind to spot Sassafras Trees on your own.

  • Distinctly-shaped leaves in three shapes
  • Smooth green bark for young trees and furrowed reddish-brown bark for older trees
  • Spicy, citrusy, and earthy aroma
  • Twisted branches
  • Yellow flowers that grow in racemes

What Do Sassafras Tree Leaves Look Like?

Sassafras Tree leaves have mainly three different shapes. This includes an oval or spoon shape; a two-lobe mitten shape; and a multiple-prong fork shape.

The oval shape looks like a typical tree leaf, the two-lobe shape looks like a little mitten with a thumb sticking out, and the fork-shape typically has three prongs to it.

Sassafras Tree leaves are fantastic in more ways than one.

What Does Sassafras Tree Flower Look Like?

The Sassafras Tree flower is yellow in color.

The flower is dioecious,21 yes, that is an interesting word, but what does it mean?

Closeup of Sassafras albidum showing young leaflets and flowers blooming at the tip of a stem.

(Image: James Steakley30)

Does it mean that it is delicious? Not necessarily.

It means that the female trees are the ones that can bring forth fruits. What is important to note about these flowers is that they form in groups or clusters.18

Related Reading: 232 Types of Flowers: How To Identify and Grow Flowers In Any Season

What Do Sassafras Tree Seeds Look Like?

Sassafras Tree seeds have a medium to dark brown color and possess a hard shell with pronounced edges on the sides, while having pointy ends on the top and bottom. These seeds come from the dark blue fruit of the Sassafras tree.3

On the inside, the seed has a fleshy appearance. Only female Sassafras Trees can bear fruit and produce seeds.

This means that in order to produce and obtain seeds from your female Sassafras Tree, you may want to plant a male Sassafras Tree nearby.

What Does Sassafras Root Bark Look Like?

At its younger age, the Sassafras Tree has a green bark that appears smooth to the touch.11 But when trees grow older, they change the appearance of their bark which then possesses a reddish tinge to it.

The texture of the bark also changes and turns to a more roughened or furrowed surface.

Sassafras albidum: Planting Tips for Sassafras Tree

The Sassafras Tree is known for thriving in areas that have seen their plants succumb to fire.11 Apart from highlighting a message of regeneration and prolificity, this quality comes from the fact that Sassafras Trees grow well under direct sunlight or partial shade where other trees are not casting a wide shadow over them.

The following sections provide you with more planting tips for Sassafras Tree that can help you grow the Mitten Tree in ideal conditions.

How Can You Start Growing Sassafras Tree From a Seed?

This is a great question to ask if you are genuinely interested in taking on the responsibility of raising one of the majestic plants. If you want to grow a Sassafras Tree from a seed, it is best to follow the right practices.

A key tip is to start the process in the fall season.14 You will know that you are successful if you see it start to sprout during the season that is after winter.

How Can You Start Growing a Sassafras Tree From a Seedling?

This is a fantastic question that is largely answered by the fact that you should place it in the right conditions.

Ensure it is placed in an area where the sun can shine on it in its full glory.

Provide it with the right amount of water but do not go overboard.

How Can You Start Growing a Sassafras Tree From a Cutting?

It could be the trickiest of the three productive planting processes for the tree. But you can look into a guide on how to grow a tree from a branch to make the process easier.

In order to use Sassafras cuttings, you should plant them in pots and almost completely cover them with soil.

Keeping the soil moist is key to your tree’s growth, so is ensuring that it gets plenty of sunlight everyday.

What Are Some Companion Plants for Growing Sassafras Tree?

Despite no definitive research on companion plants,26 many gardeners believe that planting certain species next to one another can harbor a mutually beneficial relationship between them and deliver positive results. This also holds true for the Sassafras Tree.

Some of the companion plants for growing Sassafras Tree include Sourwood, Tulip Tree, Sweet Gum, and Blue Star.27

What Is Sassafras Growth Rate?

Sassafras growth rate on an average ranges from 13-24 inches per year.18

What is amazing about this tree is that it can reach further heights.

Sassafras tree growth chart showing full grown Sassafras tree on a line graph with Sassafras tree age on the x-axis and Sassafras tree height on the y-axis.

Of course, this is not always the case. There is another aspect that is fascinating and quite intriguing.

The average length can go over 40 feet.

Sassafras Tree Growth Rate: How Long It Takes To Grow Sassafras Tree?

The Sassafras Tree has a height of 30-60 feet. But it requires some time to reach its full height. With that being said, it has a growth rate that is classified as medium to fast.18

On an average basis, the Sassafras Tree can add 13-24 inches to its height per year.18 But many trees can grow higher than that.16

How Far Apart To Plant Sassafras Tree

The Sassafras Tree is a medium-sized tree. According to experts, medium-sized trees can grow optimally by maintaining around 20 feet of distance between them.19

But the tree placement requirements for a home may vary on a case to case basis due to the shade that the main building needs and the area that the planting site has to offer.20

What Are Some Common Pests of the Sassafras Tree and How To Stop Sassafras Tree Disease?

The Sassafras Tree does not have potential pests that could threaten its existence on your property. But the ones that it does have are quite serious.17

This includes the Sassafras Borer, a larva that stays true to its name and creates holes in the bark of the tree. If you notice holes across the bark and branches, you can practice pruning as a natural pest control for Sassafras Tree.

By removing affected areas from the tree, you can stop the spread of these larvae. Otherwise, you can also turn to controlling the pest through chemical options.

Another threat comes in the form of beetles, namely the Redbay Ambrosia Beetle and the Japanese Beetle that could open doors for your tree to develop wilt disease.

Wilt disease is a deadly fungus for trees that silently attacks them from the inside out and often makes itself unnoticeable until it has devoured the tree.

What Are Some Sassafras Tree Disease Prevention Tips?

The major threats to Sassafras Tree come in the form of a specific fungal infection and a certain larva infestation. The fungal infection, known as laurel wilt, is spread via Redbay Ambrosia Beetles.24

Unfortunately, when a Sassafras Tree has fallen prey to laurel wilt, there is no known treatment to cure it. In such cases, your best bet is to dispose of the tree to prevent nearby plants from getting infected.

The larva infestation comes from Sassafras Borer, which damages your tree by creating holes in it. This problem is comparatively easier to detect and manage.

Closeup of Sassafras albidum showing discoloration and holes on leaves.

(Image: Katja Schulz31)

When you notice any holes in your tree bark or branches, you can start cutting the infected parts to manage the problem.

Sassafras Flavor: What Does Sassafras Taste Like?

The taste of the Sassafras Tree depends largely upon the part of the plant that you consume. For instance, if you chew Sassafras Tree leaves, you may get a hit of citrus or lemon.

But if you bite into a twig, you may get notes of spices such as cinnamon and anise. The Sassafras Tree root is very similar to root beer in taste due to being the original ingredient to lend the beverage its flavor.

What Is Sassafras Tea Good For?

Obtained from the Sassafras root bark, Sassafras tea is believed to have medicinal properties that could treat conditions such as inflammation and diarrhea. It is a part of Native American medicine.

But there is no widespread research that verifies the medicinal effects of Sassafras tea. It is also crucial to remember that Sassafras root has safrole in it, which is classified as a carcinogen by the FDA.22

While many manufacturers remove safrole before selling Sassafras root bark, using the root in its natural state may still expose you to safrole.

Can You Consume Sassafras Extract?

Consuming Sassafras extract can have you ingest safrole, which may cause cancer upon prolonged and significant consumption.7 Many manufacturers now remove safrole from Sassafrass extract before selling it to the masses.

Alternatively, you can also find artificial Sassafrass extract to enjoy the earthy, sweet, and spicy flavor of the tree without consuming safrole.

Is It Safe To Consume Sassafras Oil?

Technically, one can note that Sassafras oil has a large portion of safrole. This is something to watch out for as the FDA classifies it as a carcinogen.7

At the same time, it is not a surprise to see that individuals do turn to this type of oil to meet their different needs. There are ways to benefit from this type of oil by asking various merchants if they have this without the carcinogenic compound.

Can You Use Sassafras Wood To Build Something?

Sassafras wood is light in its weight but durable in its strength.23 It is mostly utilized for woodworking projects such as furniture making.

You can also use Sassafras wood to build home fixtures such as doors, window frames, and cabinets. In case you are wondering if Sassafras tree broke in half, can it be saved?

You can look into this alternative use for its wood instead.

What Is the World Largest Sassafras Tree?

The world’s largest Sassafras Tree is estimated to be 250-300 years old. It is located in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The tree exemplifies signature traits of the Sassafras Tree family with its 60 feet tall height and over 23 feet diameter.25

Where Is the Sassafras Treehouse?

You can find this in Dade County, in the state of Georgia.28 While many people are aware of Dade County present in Miami, remember that this is located further up in the United States, and not in Florida.

People love this place because it lets one connect with nature in more ways than one in a peaceful environment. If you are interested in peace and great views, this could be a great place to be for a while.

The Sassafras Tree Is Beautiful To Grow, But You Should Consume Its Extract With Caution

After learning more about the questions of, is the Sassafras Tree banned? How to plant, identify, and grow Sassafras? And what type of risks to look out for?

Wide shot of a young Sassafras Tree with dried mulch on the ground.

(Image: Michael Rivera32)

You can become more confident in making it a part of your home to enjoy its magnificent fall foliage and spectacular aroma.

As long as you practice safety, you can reap the rewards of Sassafras Tree without putting your health at risk.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sassafras Tree

What Are the Growing Zones for Sassafras Tree? Where To Grow Sasafras Trees?

The Sassafras Tree grows best in USDA growing zone 4-9. The tree can grow in most types of soil such as loamy, sandy, and acidic soils.

Is Safrole Oil Made From Sassafras Tree?

It is correct to think that it is a derivative of this specific plant. Remember that it is banned by the FDA to be used as a food additive in commercial applications.7

Are Sassafras and Sarsaparilla Tree Different?

The Sassafras Tree is different from the Sarsaparilla Tree. They are often grouped together because they provide the ingredients for popular beverages root beer and sarsaparilla, respectively.

How Much Sunlight Does Sassafras Tree Need Each Day?

Give your Sassafras Tree a place where it can get this much amount of sunlight on a daily basis. Otherwise, it may not thrive and become unable to reach its full potential.

What Are the Watering Needs for Sassafras Tree Plants?

The watering needs for Sassafras Tree plants are quite straightforward and include the following practices.15 It is best to conduct regular watering, at least 12 times per month during the specific months of May through October.17

When To Plant Sassafras Tree for the Best Yield?

Fall is the ideal period to plant a sassafras tree.14 If you are planting your Sassafras Tree in one of the outlined USDA growing zones within this time, you may grow your tree with little to no problems.

What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Sassafras Tree?

The best growing conditions for Sassafras Tree fauna typically include the right soil conditions,15 zones of four through nine and general care that is necessary for this plant. You may need to take some additional steps to care for your Sassafras Tree.16


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29SassafrasAlb2 Photo by Douglas Goldman / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <>

30Sassafras albidum flower Photo by James Steakley / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) . Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <>

31Sassafras Photo by Katja Schulz / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

32Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Sassafras albidum Photo by Michael Rivera / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). Resized. From Wikimedia Commons <,_Sassafras_albidum.jpg>