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Sassafras Tea for Healing


To make Sassafras Tea:
Take two whole clean fresh roots from two, four, to five foot sassafras saplings. (Do not worry about destroying your sassafras stand by this root harvesting, because for every one sapling you pull up, two will grow back in its place.) Bring these two roots to a boil in almost two gallons of water. Let the roots boil for only ten minutes. Then, cover the pot and let it stand for four hours. After the four hour “sit,” the delicious, healthful beverage is ready to drink.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is one of the easier trees to identify by its leaves. Sassafras leaves can have a mitten shape, with either a left thumb or a right thumb, or the sassafras leaf can be three-lobed, as shown in the photo at right. It can also have an oval, unlobed leaf. Usually, you’ll see all three shapes on the same tree.

The sassafras tree is a member of the laurel family so it has aromatic foliage. Rub a leaf between your fingers, and its scent may be obvious. The intensity of the aroma seems to vary from one colony to another. You can also experience the unique aroma of sassafras by crushing a little twig.

Sassafras tea was widely used in the past for its various medicinal effects. Sassafras root and bark was an important export in colonial times. However, natural sassafras tea has been banned from commercial sale in the US since the 1970s, because of concern that safrole, a compound in natural sassafras products, may cause cancer.

In earlier times, homemade root beer was made by fermenting molasses (sometimes mixed with honey) and sassafras root. Commercial root beer used oil of sassafras and safrole for flavoring. Artificial flavoring or safrole-free sassafras extract is now used commercially, and is available for sassafras candy and other sassafras recipes.

Sassafras trees are native to most of the eastern United States. The trees are typically 35 to 50 feet in height at maturity. Individual sassafras trees in the South, may be taller than this average. The spread is usually about 2/3 the height.

Peel and split fresh sassafras root from a small sapling (1/2″ diameter)

Boil enough root to turn water light to medium reddish color

Add a couple of fresh leaves and steep for 10 minutes

Sweeten with honey

Dried roots don’ seem to make good tea. Use fresh. Even in winter, fresh sassafras can be found and easily harvested. Look for straight, sparsely branched shoots that have a bright green top, grasp them at the base and pull straight up.

Dried and ground leaves make an excellent spice and thickener for soups and stews and is the prime ingredient in file gumbo.


  1. Interesting post, Paisley!

  2. Denise Eagan says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sassafras tree and I’m in Eastern U.S. I’m bummed.

    So let me get this straight. . .root beer, the stuff we drink today, was originally made from Sassafras? Like coca cola was made with cocaine?

  3. carolyndee says:

    My dad’s mother died when he was four and a spinster aunt made he and his brothers drink sassafras tea each spring. He used to call root beer sasparilla. He was in his fifties when I was born (of course I’m only 39 🙂 as I’ sure you remember) and he was the next to youngest of eight children, so we’re talking a long, long time ago. He’s the reason I love history so much, though, because he used to tell us about growing up and family tales around the dinner table most evenings.
    Caroline Clemmons

  4. I’ve always been turned off by anything with the word sassafras in its name – and this post didn’t whet my appetite – but I’m glad to learn more about it. I didn’t realize sassafras trees even existed.
    Thank you for the enlightenment, Paisley. Historical writers need to know about things that were so common in the past.
    Good job!
    Mary Ann

  5. I’ve been following your blog for 3 days now and i have to that say i am starting to like your posts.
    how do i subscribe to your blog?

  6. Greentea you can go to the side of this page and enter your email into the Email Subscription for receiving notifications of new posts by email. That should get you to the blog.

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the posts. 🙂

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