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.