( Sassafras albidum )
The Sassafras trees stretch from Southern Maine to Florida, and westward on beyond the Mississippi.
Sassafras is a especially handsome member of the native North American laurel family. It is known for its imposing height, some 90 ft. trees are not uncommon. The lovely, sienna-hued trees were first exploited for teas and flavorings by the Choctows of what is present day state of Louisiana. The principal use of the herb these days is making file powder. Sassafras displays bright green leaves of three different shapes, all of which may appear on the same tree. In the spring the tree displays small yellowish green flowers, the leaves turn a deep red color in the fall. The bark is a deeply furrowed, oily and a lushly fragrant, pleasant taste. It is one of the few truly native American herbs, in fact, perhaps in fiction, it aided in the country’s discovery by the Europeans, A horticultural book that was written in the late 1900th century, tells a tale of it is credited with the discovery of America. According to the book, the airborne fragrance of the highly aromatic trees enabled Christopher Columbus convinced his mutinous crew that land was indeed near.
In the colonial era, the leaves became a chief export to the old world, after Europeans became convinced it was a miracle cure for everything from plague to syphilis to scurvy. The leaves were also highly prized by the Native Americans who helped Walter Raleigh and his me, to harvest sassafras on the island called Cuttyhunk off Cape Cod. The leaves and bark were used in teas and medicinal tonics. The roots was boiled down in a strong tea to treat fevers, and the young, green sprouts were boiled to make a eyewash. The Midwestern farmers dug the roots in late winter, scraped off the outer covering, than brewed it to make a spring tonic, for thinning the blood for spring.
In the 1960’s the FDA conducted studies on mice in which rodents received massive doses of safrpole, concluded that human use of safrole produced liver toxins and was carcinogenic. As a result, the culinary use of sassafras oil and bark has been banned by the FDA. Oddly enough the leaves which also contain safrole, have not been tagged by the FDA as unfit for human consuption. Herbalists in general does not agree with the FDA’s assessment of safrole’s toxicity.
Rosemary Gladstar, cofounder of the Traditional Medicinal Tea Company and owner of Sage home study course on herbology, points out that the amount of safrole administered in the FDA study was ludicrously excessive, far exceeding any amount humans could consume on a daily basis.
As always get advice from a herbalists or your doctor and using a self healing.