Sassafras (Chu Mu, Chu Shu)Sassafras (Chu Mu, Chu Shu)

Botanical Name: Western – Sassafras albidum. Eastern – S. tzumu, S. randaiense.

All parts of the sassafras tree are used for culinary, medicinal and aromatic purposes. The leaves are crushed and added to Louisiana Creole cuisine. Considered a blood purifier, it has been used for many centuries by the Native Americans and Southeast Asians to heal wounds and ease joint pain.

Below is an overview of Sassafras (Chu Mu, Chu Shu), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Sassafras (Chu Mu, Chu Shu).

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Western Name: Sassafras

Also Known As: Winauk, Cinnamon Wood, Ague Tree, Sassafrax, Saloop

Organs/Systems: Skin, Kidneys, Joints, Lung, Uterus

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Analgesic, Antiseptic, Antifungal, Diaphoretic, Dentrifice, Carminative, Sudorific, Disinfectant, Emmenagogue, Aromatic, Febrifuge, Anodyne. Skin sores, kidney problems, toothaches, rheumatism, swellings, bronchitis, hypertension, dysentery, scurvy, menstrual disorders, sexually transmitted diseases.


Pin Yin: Chu Mu (S. tzumu) and Chu Shu (S. randaiense)

Also Known As: Cha mu

Meridians: Lung, Liver, Stomach

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Clears Wind Cold/Releases to the Exterior: colds, flu, Shao Yang stage fever, bronchitis, sinus infections, diarrhea, joint pain. Moves Blood: swellings, menstrual cramps, joint pain, headache, infertility. Promotes Urination/Clears Damp: edema, chronic arthritis, gout, cystitis. Benefits the Skin: itchy pussy skin conditions, venereal infections, bruises and sores.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Sassafras trees grow to be 30-115 feet tall. They are members of the Lauraceae family of deciduous trees. They have slender sympodial branches and smooth, orange-brown or yellow bark. All parts of the plant are fragrant. They are unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns on the same plant: unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped) and trilobed (three-pronged). There are tiny five-petaled yellow flowers with male and female flowers on separate trees. The fruit is a drupe and is blue-black when ripe. Deciduous sassafras lose their leaves for part of the year. The bark is thick, red brown and deeply furrowed.

Native to Eastern North America and Eastern Asia. It likes hills, ridges and mountainous areas.

Sassafras (Chu Mu, Chu Shu)Parts Most Frequently Used: Peach, Pit, Flowers

Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Warm, Aromatic

Caution: Safe, however the essential oil is highly toxic in amounts over 5 drops. Do not use if pregnant.

History/Folklore: Sassafras has been used to treat wounds and joint pain. It has also been valued for its ability to improve the flavor of medicinal formulas. A cup of sassafras tea is a traditional spring tonic in the Southern U.S.

The name “sassafras” comes from the French meaning to “break stones.” It has also been called fennel wood due to its distinct aroma. Legend says that Columbus found land in the U.S. by following the scent of the trees.

Native Americans distinguished between white and red sassafras. Both are the same plant but refer to different parts with distinct colors and uses. They have used the plant for thousands of years. The leaves were applied directly to wounds and used to treat acne, urinary disorders and ailments caused by high fevers.

One ounce of crushed root boiled in a pint of water was used to reduce fevers, soothe joint pain, gout, ease menstrual pain, cure scurvy and soothe red and swollen eyes. The essential oil (1-5 drops in boiled water) was used by early 19th century Europeans to treat a variety of ailments, but especially to mask the flavor of opium in potions given to small children to keep them quiet and “well-behaved.” The oil is highly toxic, so only a very small amount is ever used. It can cause vomiting, stupor, spontaneous abortion and death.

Young leaves are quite mucilaginous and produce a citrus-like scent when crushed. The leaves have been used in salads and to flavor fats or cure meats. The leaves have also been dried and powdered to help thicken and flavor soups, including the famous regional Cajun soup called “gumbo.” The leaves should be simmered gently and never boiled. The twigs have been used as toothbrushes or fire starters. The dried bark, steeped in tea with milk and sugar was a popular drink in England called “saloop.” The essential oil was used in liniments to help heal wounds and sores.

Thought to be a blood purifier and effective against excess mucous discharge, the plant was regarded as a cure for syphilis and gonorrhea.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine sassafras is used to treat rheumatism and trauma.

The largest known sassafras tree is said to live in Kentucky, U.S. and measures over 100 feet high and 21 feet in circumference.

The wood is used in China, Europe and the U.S for building ships and making furniture. The trees played an important role in European colonization of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The fragrant essential oil found in most of the tree has been used to make soap, cosmetics, and other toiletries. The oil is difficult to find ans is often found adulterated with camphor.

The constituent safrole found in sassafras can be toxic. However, it is practically insoluble in water so passes through the body safely. Because of its possible toxic side-effects it was commercially banned in the U.S. as being potentially carcinogenic. It should be noted that this same constituent is also found in green tea, pepper, nutmeg and pepper, and they are not banned. Sassafras has been used for centuries without causing harm and doing much good. It is a valuable herb and food.

The leaves, bark, twigs, stems and fruit are all eaten by birds, white-tailed deer, rabbits and porcupines in small quantities.

Key Constituents:

Essential oils (including: Safrole, Camphor, and Eugenol), Mucilage, Myristicin, Reticule, Safrene, Tannins, Thujone.
Did you know?

Root Beer

Sassafras was once the main ingredient in traditional root beer, also called sassafras root tea.

Ornamental Tree

Sassafras is often grown as an ornamental tree for its unusual leaves and aromatic scent.
Fun fact!


Sassafras root bark helps make the skin sweat releasing toxins located in the skin and helping to treat acne.

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