Digging Sassafras Trees

July 05 - Sassafras seedling I dug out of the garden 6 months previous.

I took some time yesterday to dig 8 sassafrass seedlings out of the corner of the garden. I once had visions of a no-till garden but that came to a screeching halt when I realized that the sassafras trees were just too close to allow that. Sassafras spreads via root suckers and given a season or two of no till, my garden would be a forest of sassafras trees.

The picture above is of one baby that I dug out last winter and placed in a 1 gallon pot. I’ve had a lot of luck putting them in pots in the shade for a couple of months to rest up followed by several months in a semi protected area (read partial sun). The following spring they are ready to go to new homes. The one in the picture will be going to my aunt Mallie in Oklahoma later this month.

49 thoughts on “Digging Sassafras Trees”

  1. i have a five acre property loaded with ssafras trees which are rather over whelming are they usefull for anything in my opinion they sre not a very pretty tree

  2. Lillian,

    Sassafras do spread via root suckers and given enough time will fill an area. I think they are very pretty though, especially in the fall. Mine go through the range of red, orange and finally yellow before they fall.

    As for uses, the roots have long been used for tea. There was a carcinogen scare some years back but I believe it was determined that you would have to drink large amounts daily to see any ill effects. I keep a jar of dried, chopped root in the cupboard and enjoy a cup of tea a couple of times a month at most. The dried leaves have been used by early Native American people to thicken soups and stews and later for gumbo file in cajun cooking. Some people harvest the leaves only in the fall, others only in the spring for their gumbo. I’ve never tried it though I’ve meant to. Perhaps this year.

  3. D.

    I’ve always dug them in the later winter, while they are still dormant. They go into pots in the shade for several months. Then I put them where they only get a couple of hours of direct sun per day.

    I suppose as long as you remove them while they are dormant you could plant them out any time as long as they had the moisture they need to grow new roots. I usually have about an 90% success rate the way I do it.

  4. Kerry,

    We just dug up some sassafras saplings this Wed., May 31, 2006. We are in western PA. Any tips to us as to where to plant them in our half-acre city lot? Would it be okay to place them near a building? Or is it a lost cause at this time of the year?

  5. I’ve never had any luck trying to move them this late in the season. I would say put them in pots, keep them moist and in the the shade for a couple of weeks. I don’t think I would place them too near a building. They spread from runners and not sure I would want to deal with all the little trees that will result over time so close to a building.

  6. Kerry,
    As a little girl, I rememebr trudging thru the woods with my Dad, digging up roots andmaking fresh sassafras tea. I would LOVE to find sassafras tree in my area but have NO idea where. I Live in Virginia… below DC.. near fredericksburg. WOUld local nurseries carry them?


  7. I know they grow in Virginia as I used to live on the DelMarVa peninsula and they are abundant in the woods there. I am not sure if nurseries would carry them or not but if you know someone with some land they would probably let you dig a few next winter. Once you know what they look like they are pretty easy to spot.

  8. What is the best time in ILLINOIS to dig sassafras roots for tea. I have several trees, but am not sur when I should dig the roots. Also, is it possible to dig some roots without killing the plant.


  9. Bud,
    I would imagine you could gather the root anytime though in the winter or early spring when the sap is down you might get more bang for your buck. I wouldn’t worry about hurting a large tree unless you are planning to go into business selling the stuff. The way I usually get mine is when I pull up the small trees that come up from the roots of the large trees nearby. They tend to want to come up in the middle of my vegetable garden and as much as I like the tree my garden isn’t the best place for them. Sometimes I will leave them over the winter and pull them in the spring before they leaf out. Since my goal is to get them out of the garden I try to remove as much of the root as possible. The largest diameter root I’ve worked with is about as big around as my index finger. After washing I will chop it coursely using a food processor or a knife to slice off thin chunks. I allow these to dry and put them in a jar in the cupboard.

  10. I wonder if you have a source for BUYING small sassafras trees…..For once we bought a house witout any and can’t seem to find them anywhere….We have also tried digging but the young trees seem to just snap off witout roots.

  11. My father used to travel to and from Ak and brought back a root and planted It at his home In the state of Washington city of Bingen. It’s now a huge beautiful tree. I really feel It will grow anywhere. My father being an Osage Indian from Oklahoma, could do mostanything. Every spring all of us drink It as my father believed It thinned your blood after a long cold winter!!!

  12. Anyone haveing any root’s that they would like to mail me I will pay postage and what they want for root> Mailing add Eva Bramlet Po Box 16966 Portland Oregon 97292-0966 Thank’s a bunch and Happy Holiday’s to everyone!!!

  13. I have a lot of questions about digging dormant sassafrass & potting them up. I have a propagation nursery (have 3 large trees in the yard that shoot up hundreds of whips, are normally mowed…but have let them grow since summer) and have a customer who wants 1 gal. potted sassafrass.

    I’ve never dug sassafrass before – it’s not something we ordinarily grow. Kerry? Is it possible to contact you via e-mail or by phone? I am in southern Indiana.

    Thanks – Betsy

  14. where can you get sassafras roots. can you get them from a store or do you have to dig the roots up?

  15. Kaylin,

    If you are meaning dried roots to brew from tea then I am not sure as I always dig my own. I know they quit selling them as too much of the stuff was found to cause cancer in lab rats. If I remember correctly it was a huge amount though but don’t take my word for it I have been known to be wrong. I tend to drink no more than a cup or two a month at the most a cup a week in the winter.

    If you are talking about digging roots to plant for trees you might try googling it. I know ForestFarm has sold it in the past but I don’t know if they always carry it or not.

  16. Hi, I remember finding an abundant number of sassafras trees in the woods around my parents’ home and wanted to dig some up now so I can plant them around my own house but I’m having trouble identifying the tree now that the leaves have dropped. Any suggestions besides looking at pictures?

  17. If you find the large trees the little ones will be scattered around them. If you find sucker that you believe to be a sassafras, go ahead and pull it up and take a sniff of the root area where it connects to the parent tree’s root. It should have a definite root beer smell.

  18. A small sassafras has popped up in my back garden. There’s not enough room there for a tree and I would like to move it. It is about 14 inches tall right now. Should I wait to move it? Is it best to put it in a pot for awhile before moving it?

  19. Coleen, unless it is winter where you are I would not attempt digging the tree up until it is fully dormant. If there are no other sassafras trees around it means that it is a seedling rather than a root sucker. This will probably work in your favor. If there is a large one near by you can still dig it up. It may or may not make it though. The fact that it is still small is also a plus either way.

    When you do go to move it, try to get as many of the roots as you can. It might help to water it first. That will give it a pre-dig drink and help keep the soil around the roots. If you know where you want it to go and can move it there. If not put it in a container and leave it outside, up next to a building or something to shelter it from the drying winds.

  20. Where can I find some sassafras root? I love the smell of it when it’s boiled, it’s great to freshen the house. Thanks

  21. Thank you so much for all the advice Kerry. There aren’t any other sassafras trees around, so I’m guessing it is a seedling. I know when I want to move it to. I live in Massachusetts.When do you think would be the best time to move it?

  22. Carla:
    If you live in the Eastern US odds are you can find it in the local woods. Alternately, if you don’t want to go the wild route, most health food stores used to sell it but I don’t know if that is still the case.

    You are welcome. Since it is a seedling, there is more of a chance it will do ok with the transplanting as long as you get as many of its tiny roots as you can.

    If you dig it up after it drops all of its leaves and put it in a pot you can replant it any time the ground is not frozen. If you decide to dig it up and plant it directly in it’s final home you can do that too but I wouldn’t pick the heat of the summer to do it.

    I don’t know which zone you are in up in MA but here in zone 6a I would dig it up sometime in late winter and plant it right away if I knew where it was going. I have kept them in 3 gallon pots for up to 2 years and had them do fine after replanting.

  23. Thanks so much Kerry! I’ll let you know how it does when I dig it up in late winter (when the ground thaws) and transplant it.

  24. I live in Chadds Ford, Pa and am having hard time getting rid of sassafras seedlings which have come up in my grassy area. I have 2 acres and they are a big problem for me. Would not recommend them and have taken out larger ones.

  25. Yes if you have one sassafras you will have more. The runners will send up young trees as well as the seeds that do sprout. The only real problem I have with them is in the garden. I just keep the lawn mowed and that keeps them controlled there. In the garden I usually dig and pull them up in the very early spring just after the sap starts running. The roots I clean off, chop, dry and keep to make tea with. The tea has been found to be a carcinogen but if I remember correctly you have to drink it daily and by the gallon to get there. The clogged arteries I have been working on for years will probably get me before the sassafras does.

  26. on our sassafras there is a green worm about four inches long ,thick as a finger,green with red dots on one end and yellow dots on other end. are these some kid of moth or beautifly worm or something that is going to distroy the tree. it has already eaten alot of the leaves. thank you BONNIE

  27. I would like to know which part of the root is the best for making tea. The thick part or the thin runners.
    For people who don’t know how to ID sassafras. It has 3 different kinds of leaves. Mitten shape, 3 fingers and just oval. The woman we bought our property from told me this or I would have never known we have an abundance of sassafras.

  28. Use the thin runners for making tea. When you boil the root and the water will turn reddish.
    The longer you boil it, ~the stronger the tea.
    Cut the roots in about three inch sections. Only collect roots no larger than a 1/2 inch round in size or smaller. Hope this helps and good teaing.
    My husband was from Virginia and use to make this tea when he had the trees.
    Sincerely, Rene & Danny

  29. I use pretty much any part of the root up to ones about as thick as my index finger. Usually I have to pull small trees out of my garden each year. If I do the pulling when the ground is good and wet I can get a longer section of root. I don’t usually bother with any fibrous roots. They don’t have that many at this size and trying to get them washed to use would be a major pain.

    After washing the mud off of the root, I cut them with a chopper to get thin slices or chips. In a pinch I’ve used a sharp potato peeler. Some slices I use fresh and the rest are dried on a tray out of the direct sun. These are kept in a jar in the cabinet. The larger surface area of the thin slices mean it doesn’t take much to make a batch of tea. I learned the hard way that it is much easier to chop the root while it is still fresh rather than waiting to do it after it has dried has dried.

  30. I live in southern Ca. Can i get some sassafras root here and will the tree grow here? I am from the East coast and have been drinking it occasionally all my life with no ill effects. Never heard of any until now.

  31. http://www.kentconservation.org has these available as seedlings in the spring and fall
    for Kent county Michigan growers. You can call to get on mailing list. 616-942-4111 xt. 4
    This is a county conservation district plant sale.
    The county district conservation plant sale in your area might sell these for native conservation platings also.

  32. Just a great big thanks for all the information that you provided for us,,,, as a kid I too went along with my dad on wonderful nature walks ,, we gather persimmons and Sassafras roots for tea, and Pa Pa’s but as we grew up we didn’t do that , and he has passed away ,, I have been thinking a lot about a good cup of homemade sassfras tea like dad would make ,, and no one could tell me how to cut the roots and when to dig them soooo thanks for bringing back some great memories for this holiday season,, I am suprising my family with a batch of good hot sasfrass tea~~~~~~ many thanks and God Bless you for you wonderful site

  33. just want to say thanks for the info you provided here, I have gotten some sasfrass roots and wanted to learn how to prepare it.
    God bless you .Happy-Thanksgiving

  34. kerry, i live in southwest georgia where it’s muggy & hot if i get a seedling how would i take care of it ? does it have to grow in the shade or inside the house during the summer months? another thing is how can i identify one in tha woods? i’m realy wanting to find out about this plant…can you help me out?

  35. I live in the Ozarks where it grows wild everywhere, lucky me but I know nothing about how to harvest it. Why can you not use the whole root regardless of size? When I dig it there are more large roots than small. Also I dig the whole tree up is that right?

  36. My husband remembers digging and cutting the roots of these for tea and root beer. He was wondering, does that hurt the tree??

  37. I have tried to dig up roots of sassafras seedlings for the past few years and they all die on me. Is there something I am not doing correctly or is there a different way to dig them to be successful?


  38. I find that the ones that work best are small (abt 1′ for less tall) and still very dormant. Once the leaves come out I’ve never had any luck getting them to survive. I also try to get as much root as I can and keep them fairly sheltered for the first few months.

  39. Hi Kerry! I live in Illinois where a sassafras tree was planted in my yard about eight years ago by my late Mom. She thought she’d planted a blueberry bush from her sister South Haven, Michigan yard who was moving to Texas. We have nourished this plant all of those years and finally when I started to care for my yard a local nursery told me the plant was a sassafras. I would like to dig it up and plant in my sister’s yard. It has buds on the branches is it too late in this 30-60 degree spring season?

  40. Thanks for your website. I have been scratching my head for years as I attempt to transplant Runners from my home on Long Island to my 22 acre land in Upstate NY. I have always tried digging them up in the Spring ( I just dug more an hour ago. ) They seem to droop almost immediately and die in a few days. Winter dormant.. that would make sense. I will have to mark a few now while they have leaves.
    Thanks again

  41. We are looking for a 6″ – 12″ Sassafras tree that will be planted at our son’s wedding but we can’t find any?

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