Sassafras has been used in Appalachia and many other parts of the United States since Christopher Columbus sailed to America. It was one of the first cargoes shipped back to the New World. It’s used as a pleasant tasting tea, spring tonic, and many other medical remedies. Sassafras can be found practically all over the United States. It’s used to flavor drinks such as ginger ale, candies and used in mouthwash. This information comes from "Wild Plants of Appalachia" by Dalton Greer.
Sassafras is a plant of the Laural family. It is called by many different names, White Sassafras, Tea Tree, Smelling Stick, Mitten Tree, Saxifras, Red Sassafras, Cinnamonwood, Gumbo and Saloop. The aroma of the Sassafras is said to have helped Christopher Columbus quell his mutinous seaman who feared to sail any further west until they smelled the fragrance of the Sassafras which indicated land was near. Ships carried cargo’s of sassafras back to the Old World in the early days of exploration.
Sassafras varies in height from 10 feet to 50 feet. It has a very agreeable odor and rough red to gray bark. It has yellowish blossoms in April and May. Leaves are three fingered and oval in shape. Berries are dark blue and about the size of a pea. Birds are attracted to them in the fall when the berries are mature. Sassafras grows from the most northern state of Michigan in the U.S to the southernmost state of Florida. They grow in woodland, mountains, fields, roadsides, pastures and along fences.
Roots and twigs of sassafras are used in Appalachia to make a spring tonic to clean the blood and for fevers, upset stomach, dysentery, respiratory problems, and to treat kidney troubles. It’s also good for bronchitis and for bringing a mothers milk down, also as a stimulate. Many people drink it as a tasty tea. The bark can be made into a poultice for sore eyes, and healing wounds. It’s also said that chewing sassafras will break the tobacco habit. Leaves have been chewed and laid on wounds to stop bleeding.
The roots are distilled to flavor drinks such as ginger ale, sarsaparilla, cream soda, and root beer. It was also used in Kickapoo Oil, which sold at old time medicine shows. Sassafras brings out rash in measles and is effective in helping pass kidney stones. There are several ways to make sassafras tea. Put two roots a couple of inches long in a pot of water after washing it clean. Scrape off the bark and leave it in the pot. Bring to a boil and boil 15 minutes. Let steep for 15 minutes and strain.
Another way especially as a spring tonic, Cut or grind a teaspoon of bark, steeping in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Another way, Drop several roots into a quart of boiling water, set it off the stove and steep for 15 minutes. You can use the entire root by scrubbing and cutting into pieces and boiling in a gallon of water. A pound of roots will make about 4 quarts of tea. Many commercial mouthwashes use sassafras in their products.
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