A rather insignificant tree on the pond bank all summer, the sassafras seems frail and spindly next to the mighty oaks. However, the fall brings out the best in this tree or shrub. It has 3 different shaped leaves depending on the maturity of the leave and easy to recognize as they appear to be fingers. When you cut a branch open, the distinctive smell, compared to bottled root beer, springs out. The tree spreads in the wild by putting out suckers punching up from the mother tree's root system. The Native Americans used the sassafras from a large number of medicinal purposes by infusing the bark. They would drink the tea to cure diarrhea or used it to relieve pain. You can also make a yellow dye from crushing the wood. The early settlers made a drink from the roots by boiling them with molasses and allowing it to ferment-thus beer from a root or root beer! I've never made anything from the sassafras but have tasted the tea at places like folk festivals and such.
I, of course, appreciate the tree the most in the fall for the gorgeous colors.