Sassafras Tea – A Spring Time Treat
When I was young, I was introduced to a delightful beverage that was pretty common in the Appalachians. Sassafras Tea.
Note: in recent years, safrole, the oily substance in the Sassafras plants have been determined to be carcinogenic and possibly a source of cancer. I am a true believer that many of the things we enjoy cause cancer so make your own judgement but we sure did enjoy this drink as I grew up.
The root of the Sassafras tree should be harvested in the early spring or late fall. We tried both approaches over the years and found the flavor to be slightly different and our family members had varying opinions on which was best. It is found in cool damp shady areas in the south eastern United States. It is a thin tree, usually with few limbs, and leaves that have three unequal lobes opposite the leaf stem. The bark and roots have a distinctive root beer smell scraped. For first time harvesters, spring may be easier as the plants leaves will be more recognizable.
Dig or pull the tree up with its roots. Remove the roots, cut them into 2 inch pieces, and wash completely. Keep the roots in a cool, dry place and allow them to dry. This process should take a week or so.
After the roots have dried, shave the outer bark and a small amount of the root itself from the pieces and boil them in about 4 ounces of water for 15-20 minutes and allow it to steep until cool. Remove the bark, add 1 cup of sugar and water to fill a one gallon container and stir until well mixed.
For us, a big part of the fun was spending the time together with friends or family in the woods looking for the sassafras tree. But, today you can even purchase dried roots online (as shown below) and an ice cold glass of the tea sure is nice on a summer afternoon regardless of your methods. The flavor is similar to a root-beer or sarsaparilla.