"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Sassafras Tea
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

About this time each year I get questions about many phases of digging sassafras tree roots and turning them into what the old-timers call sassafras tea. Incidentally, it is good, tasty stuff.
First, I must point out that the skeleton in sassafras tea’s closet is none other than the fact that some medical men will tell you that said roots contain an oil that contains saffron, and that it can cause cancer and some other maladies. However, Indians used roots, leaves and bark for various medications.
Secondly, I must point out that I have been swilling sassafras tea since childhood in Southern Indiana (I consider myself a rookie at it) and I know a lot of users whose deaths were attributed to old age, not tea..
So think of, and make, sassafras tea as you like.
Rocky Houk, one my old outdoor mentors, used to tell me there are two species (or strains) of sassafras trees in Southern Indiana--red and white. The red is used for tea, Rock said.
[I used to know of one grove of sas along Hazel-Del Parkway north of 146th Street in Hamilton County, but road builders wrecked it when they widened the road. Probably weren’t even aware of it. Still others (big trees) were wrecked when 116th Street was widened at Northern Beach. We call this progress.]
At any rate, sas (like mulberry) has leaves of three shapes. One is mitten-like in shape (one lobe), one is doubly lobed, and one is not lobed (rather oblong). Most sas trees are small (like broom or shovel handles) but occasionally the reach great size.   
After the Pigeon Roost Massacre south of Scottsburg (Scott County) in 1812, some 24 settlers killed by Indians were buried beneath a sassafras tree that grew to enormous proportions (several feet). It was the largest sassafras I have ever heard of.
Sassafras tree are shallow rooted and, thus, sprout mostly from roots. However, they produce a blue, oblong berry in the fall.
This, of course, makes digging the roots fairly easy. They also may be harvested by pulling up the entire tree (wrist size or smaller with a cable and four-wheel drive vehicle.
After washing off clinging earth with cold running water, the roots should be dried and sawed into pan-sized lengths for splitting. The dried roots are then placed in a saucepan of cold water and steam-boiled to extract the oils that go to the roots in winter.
The tea may be consumed with or without sugar. Honey gives the tea a great taste.
On a few occasions--like when my grandmother had no roots in summer--I have collected green twigs for her tea-making. Sassafras roots may be bundled and kept dry for several years.

FLY FISHING--“On The Fly,” Indiana’s first all-fly-fishing show, went into orbit last Saturday without a backfire at the State Fairgrounds when an estimated 1,300 or 1,400 patrons trooped through the Farm Building.
There, one could find just about anything about fly fishing that crossed his/her mind. Patti Beasley, the ramrod for “Reel Women . . . Reel Men,” sponsor of this great effort, tells me the show was considered a huge success by the sponsors. They do see room for improvement, which more or less implies that there will be a second show next year.
In short, I would have to call it a great success for fly fishing (a great way to go) in spite of the State Fairgrounds’ greedy, $3 parking fee for a show that was housed in a building that is situated more than 200 yards from nowhere . . . Tch! Tch! 

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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