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Sassafrass. What's the fuss?

October 11, 2017

 

 Sassafras is so beautiful when it starts to change for the fall season. Usually easy enough to spot with its alien hand like leaves sassafras is popular for the widely known beverage, Root Beer. Also used for candy flavoring, this plant has many medicinal uses. The leaves were made into tea while the root was boiled in water and used to reduce fevers; soothe chronic rheumatism, gout, and dropsy; relieve eye inflammation; ease menstrual and parturition pain; help cure scurvy and various skin conditions; and act as a disinfectant in dental surgery.

The plant may come in forms such as a shrub, tree, or thicket, depending on the area of which is grows. The most distinctive trait is its leaves, yellow and orange in autumn with beautiful patterns. The roots are big and woody with rough, spongy bark. The herb is found in dryish, sandy loams alongside roadways and in the borders of woods from here in Massachusetts to Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas, and south to Florida and Texas.


 

 

Sassafras was also used in cooking. Creoles used leaves, dried and powdered, to thicken and flavor soups. Root bark that was dried and steeped, served with milk and sugar, made a popular beverage referred to "saloop," and was offered at many street corners in England up until the 1900s. Chewing on the leaves or drinking a cup of sassafras tea was known, and still is, an ideal way to up your internal energy and beat excess fatigue and/or weakness.

In the mid 1900s the United States FDA banned the plant in its pure form due to health risks associated with its chemical constituent safrole. The essential oil has been used to produce a form of "ecstasy" (street drug aka MDA). Described as a sweet-smelling, milder, slower version of ecstasy, sassafras has become popular for use again because it is considered relatively gentle. Today, use of the sassafras plant in food and beverages is now illegal in the US due to its carcinogenic effects. Nevertheless, people are known to use sassafras directly through making tea or using the ground root, leaves, or bark as a flavoring for food. In addition, components of the plant can be used to create powder or pills that can be applied in illicit, recreational drug use.

 

When I'm walking in the woods and spot a sassafras plant, I always chew on a little bit and get that root beer taste in my mouth, gives a little pep in your step too. I advise to exercise caution if you do decide to work with this plant. As always, enjoy!

 

-Angelica K.
 

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