The sassafras tree is currently budding in hills and hollows of Itawamba County. A member of the laurel family, this beautiful tree with it’s upright trunk and horizontal limbs known as “sassyfrass” for generations, was an important part of the Itawamba pioneer household. The aromatic roots of the tree were used for a spring tonic that was said to cure “spring fever” or that tired and run down feeling. The tree trunk, with the bark stripped, would make excellent posts as the wood resisted decay.
The green leaves, when bruised, has a faint smell of lemon. The following is taken from a 1912 edition of the book, The Americana: A Universal Reference Library by Frederick Converse Beach: “The roots of sassafras very early in American history became an important article of medicine, worth three shillings a pound, and they were one of the objects for which an English expedition landed in 1602…the oil of sassafras is used for a perfume for soaps, etc. The wood itself is orange-colored with pale sap-wood, and when stripped of its bark resists decay for some time, while in contact with the soil, so that it can be made into fence posts.”
The sassafras makes an excellent specimen yard tree with its beautiful upright trunk, horizontal branches and unique mitten-shaped leaves. During the fall, the leaves turn a vivid rusty red.
Photograph by Bob Franks