Sassafras

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

sassafras Sassafras albidum, a common tree of the eastern USA, from Maine down to Florida, which yields a fragrant volatile oil, safrol, used as a flavouring and perfume. All parts of the tree have been used for flavouring, but the bark of the root contains the highest concentration of oil.

Before the arrival of European settlers in America, the Indians chewed the root. Spanish colonists arriving in Florida in 1512 attributed restorative virtues to sassafras and British colonists in Virginia (then including New England) also raved about its virtues. Sir Walter Ralegh had the monopoly of the sassafras trade and made a fortune from it. It was a large export crop from the new colonies until superseded by sugar.