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Sassafras is a genus of four species of deciduous trees in the family Lauraceae, native to eastern North America and eastern Asia.
Sassafras trees grow from 15–35 m (50–120 feet) tall and 70–150 cm (2.5–6 feet) in diameter, with many slender branches, and smooth, orange-brown bark. The branching is sympodial. The bark of the mature trunk is thick, red-brown, and deeply furrowed. The wood is light, soft, weak, and brittle. All parts of the plants are very fragrant. The species are unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns on the same plant, unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped), and trilobed (three pronged; rarely the leaves can be five-lobed). They have smooth margins and grow 7–20 cm long by 5–10 cm broad. The young leaves and twigs are quite mucilaginous, and produce a scent similar to lemons when crushed. The tiny, yellow flowers are five-petaled and bloom in the spring; they are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees. The fruit are blue-black, egg-shaped, 1 cm long, produced on long, red-stalked cups, and mature in late summer.
The name “Sassafras”, applied by the botanist Nicolas Monardes in the sixteenth century, is said to be a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage.
Essential oil distilled from the root-bark or the fruit was used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food (sassafras tea and candy flavoring) and for aromatherapy.
The dried and ground leaves are used to make filé powder, a spice used in the making of some types of gumbo.
It is also used in the manufacture of the drug ecstasy, and as such, its transport is monitored internationally.