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Sassafras (Sassafras albidum [Nutt.] Nees)


botanicalSassafras officinalis
BulgarianАмериканско лаврово дърво
Amerikansko lavrovo durvo
黃樟 [wòhng jèung]
Wohng jeung
黃樟 [huáng zhāng]
Huang zhang
CzechSassafras, Kaštan bělavý
DutchSassafras, Sassefras
EnglishAugue tree, Gumbo filè, Filè powder (also spelled filé or file’)
EsperantoBlanketa sasafraso, Sasafraso
EstonianValkjas sassafras
HungarianSzasszafrász babérfa
Korean사사파러스, 사사프러스
Sasapareosu, Sasapureosu
LithuanianBalkšvasis sasafras
PolishSasafras lekarski
RussianЛавр американский, Сассафрас
Lavr amerikanski, Sassafras
SlovakSassafrasové listy, Sassafras
VietnameseCây de vàng
Cay de vang
Sassafras albidum: Sassafras branch with young leaves
Sassafras branch with young leaves and withered flowers
Sassafras albidum: Sassafras flowering branch (flowers)
Sassafras flowering branch
Sassafras albidum: Sassafras leaf in three shapes
Sassafras leaves with one, two and three lobes (75 dpi scan).
Used plant part

Leaves, harvested in autumn. Depending on light intensity, sassafras leaves can be divided in one, two or three lobes.
The root is also rich in essential oil, but very bitter.

Plant family

Lauraceae (laurel family)

Sensory quality

A weak but fresh, lemon-like aroma. See also lemon myrtle about lemon odour.

Sassafras albidum: Sassafras flowers
Sassafras flowers
Sassafras albidum: Sassafras opening bud
Sassafras opening bud
Main constit­uents

Sassafras leaves contain approxi­mately 0.4% of essential oil, the main com­ponent of which is safrol (45%). Minor com­ponents are camphor (30%), α-pinene, citral and phell­andrene.

In the root (2%) and especially in the root bark (8%), an essential oil very high in safrol (80%) is found. Besides safrol, two more phenyl­propanoids (eugenol methylester, 5-methoxy eugenol) and terpenoids (camphor) are reported.

Safrol (older form safrole) occurs as a minor or trace component in many essential oils (e. g., star anise, nutmeg and even black pepper). It is the main aroma component of an exotic Mesoamerican spice, Mexican pepper-leaves. Despite its pleasant fragrance, safrole has proved to be a potent hepatotoxin and hepato­cancerogen in animals. Because of low safrol content of sassafras leaves and particularly filè powder, these products are generally believed harmless in the culinary scale; yet culinary or medical usage of sassafras roots (which is much higher in safrol) is strongly discouraged.

Sassafras albidum: Sassafras flowering branch (flowers/leaves)
Sassafras flowering branch developing young leaves

Atlantic Northern America.


The name means stone breaker (Latin saxum fragans, but most probably trans­mitted via Spanish), which refers to the use of sassafras against kidney stones. The plant does truly exhibit some diuretic properties, but this usage is today fully obsolete.

German Fenchelholz­baum fennel wood tree refers to the fragrant wood of sassafras.

Selected Links

A Pinch of Filé Powder ( Sassafras Wildman Steve Brill: Sassafras American Spice Company: Sassafras Penzeys Spices: Sassafras Herbie’s Spices: Sassafras World Merchants: Gumbo File Bradonvical Beverage: Root beer ( The Spice House: Gumbo File Recipe: Ham and Seafood Gumbo ( Recipe: Seafood Gumbo ( Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo ( Recipe: Jambalaya ( File Powder ( Safrole from plants ( Poisonous Plants of North Carolina: Sassafras

Sassafras albidum: Flowering sassafras tree
Flowering sassafras tree
Sassafras albidum: Branch of sassafras
Sassafras branch with leaves
The sassafras tree is the only North American spice, although its kitchen usage is restricted to a small area. Filè powder (ground sassafras leaves) is an important ingredient in the two cuisines of the US-American federal state Louisiana: Creole and Cajun cookery.

In the Creole cuisine of New Orleans, Louisiana, we find a unique blend of Spanish, French, African and Indian (Native American) heritage. European, mostly French, dishes were modified, enriched with local resources and made more spicy. For example, the Spanish rice dish paella (see saffron) might be the forerunner of the famous jambalaya. Hot pepper sauces (properly, hot chile sauces) in the style of Tabasco sauce have their origin in Louisiana.

What is called gumbo is a tasty soup made from sea food, craw fish or even chicken, which owes its thickness to plenty of okras, an African vegetable. The soup is seasoned with thyme, celery and paprika; immediately before serving, some sassafras powder is stirred in. Gumbo is always eaten with plain rice.

A second cooking tradition of Louisiana is that of the Cajuns, French-speaking immigrants from Canada. Strong flavours of smoked meat (e. g., the well-known pork sausage, andouille), of black pepper, paprika and onions, are typical for the rural, country-type cooking of the Cajuns. Many dishes are stews with long cooking time, yielding a perfect blend of flavours.

Despite several differences, the Creole and the Cajun cooking styles have many features in common: Both of them prefer spicy, pungent flavours; both use roux (flour browned in hot butter) excessively; and both make heavy use of venison and sea food. Among the most important spices are, besides sassafras, celery, thyme (see there about the blackening procedure) and paprika varieties of varying hotness.

Sassafras albidum: Sassaras autumn-coloured leaves
Sassaras autumn-coloured leaves

In most coun­tries outside the United States, sassafras is looked upon with suspicion because of its high content of safrole, an hepato­toxic and probably carcino­genic agent. In Europe, sassafras leaves are not available; lemon balm provides a good substitute, but since the latter is more aromatic, dosage must be reduced.

The essential oil of sassafras (obtained from the root) is, after removal of safrole, used for flavouring a concoction called root beer in the USA, which is a truly US-American beverage dating from the century. The original recipe was a lightly fermented mixture of water, sugar (or molasses) and plant extracts, but today’s root beer is completely free of alcohol, being made from sugar, aromatic plants and carbonated water alone. Thus, root beer is not a beer at all, but an ordinary soft drink (see gale on the topic of brewing).

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