When I hear the word sassafras, I think of the southern US states - root beer and Cajun food.
Sassafras leaves and fruits
Sassafras is native to North America, in particular Louisiana.
Leaves, harvested in autumn. Depending on the local light intensity, sassafras leaves develop with one, two or three lobes. The root is also rich in essential oil, but very bitter.
Lauraceae (laurel family).
A weak but fresh, lemon-like aroma.
The botanical genus and English common name "sassafras" means "stone breaker" (Latin saxum fragans, but probably transmitted via the Spanish sasafrás), referring to the use of sassafras against kidney stones. The plant does indeed exhibit some diuretic properties, but is no longer used for this medical purpose today. German fenchelholzbaum "fennel wood tree" refers to the fragrant wood of sassafras.
Species name albidus is the male adjectival Latin term "whitish".
Sassafras is the only uniquely North American spice, with its kitchen usage restricted to a small area of the US. Filè powder (ground sassafras leaves) is an important ingredient in the two cuisines of Louisiana, Creole and Cajun.
The Creole cuisine of New Orleans represents a unique blend of Spanish, French, African and Native American heritage, with European (mostly French) dishes modified, enriched with local resources and made more spicy. For example, the Spanish rice dish paella is the forerunner of Creole jambalaya. "Hot pepper" sauces (hot chilli sauces) in the style of tabasco have their origin in Louisiana. Gumbo is a tasty soup made from sea food, craw fish or chicken, thickened with okra and seasoned with thyme, celery and paprika and with sassafras powder stirred in just prior to serving with plain rice.
In most countries outside the US sassafras is looked upon with suspicion because of its high content of safrole, an hepatotoxic and probably carcinogenic agent. In Europe, sassafras leaves are generally unavailable and lemon balm is used as a substitute (with reduced dosage as lemon balm is more aromatic).
The essential oil of sassafras which is obtained from the root, is (after removal of safrole) used for flavouring root beer, an American beverage dating from the 19th 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 and made from sugar, aromatic plants and carbonated water.