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
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.
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!