One of my favorite trees is Sassafras albidum. It’s a native of dry sand country and adds a lot of color and character to black oak savannas. The leaves occur in three different types: one lobe, two lobes, and three lobes. The crushed leaves and twigs have an unusual but pleasant smell. The cut wood is beautiful and has a pungent chemical smell that is also very good. And of course, the roots have that wonderful root beer smell and flavor, long cherished for sassafras tea. Experts now say the tea can cause stomach cancer, but I’m starting to think so does breathing the air and drinking the water.
Of this remarkable and very attractive tree, Thoreau wrote the following: "The odoriferous sassafras, with its delicate green stem, its three-lobed leaf, tempting the travelers to bruise it, it sheds so rare a perfume on him, equal to all the spices of the East. Then its rare-tasting root bark, like nothing else, which I used to dig. The first navigators freighted their ships with it and deemed it worth its weight in gold." Henry David Thoreau - journal entry, August 31, 1850.