Uses of sassafras in herbal medicine and cooking – Mother Earth News

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ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

most distinctive feature of sassafras is its array of light green leaves, which can have a “mixture” of several shapes: oval, mittenlike and trilobed.

Lately, more and more people have started to understand how limited our “modern” diets have become, both in terms of variety and nutritional value. This awareness sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs, those plants which, although little known today, were, barely a generation ago, the “guests” of honor on. the dinner tables and in the pharmacies of the houses of our grandparents. In this regular article, MOTHER will examine the availability, cultivation and benefits of our “forgotten” plant foods and remedies and, we hope, help prevent the loss of yet another piece of ancient knowledge.

Winauk, cinnamon wood, tree aye, sassafrax or saloop: whatever the common name it goes, sassafras (Sassafras officinale, S. albidum, S. varifolium, Where Laurus sassafras) is one of North America’s wildest treasures. Legend has it that the scent carried by the wind of the trees enabled Columbus to persuade his mutinous crew that land was near, and the herb is still one of the spiciest delicacies one can find during a walk in the woods. Western historians have generally attributed the “discovery” of sassafras to Spaniards exploring Florida, but American Indians from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico had used the plant for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before explorers arrived. .

Sassafras as a medicinal plant

Sassafras was best known as a medicinal plant to the American Indians and, later, to Europeans, who shipped large quantities to stores in England and the Continent. The leaves could be made into teas and poultices, while the root bark was either chipped or crushed, then soaked in boiling water – an ounce of bark for a quart of water – and taken in dose. a glass of wine as often as needed to reduce fevers; soothe chronic rheumatism, gout and dropsy; relieve inflammation of the eyes; relieve menstrual and parturition pain; help cure scurvy and various skin conditions; and acts as a disinfectant in dental surgery. Because it has been considered to be a blood purifier and effective against excess mucus discharge, the herb has even been considered a remedy for syphilis and gonorrhea.

Volatile sassafras oil, which contains safrole, has also been used for assorted combat ailments, the usual dose being one to five drops in boiled water. More than this small amount of gasoline could be dangerous: One teaspoon of pure oil is enough to cause vomiting, dilation of pupils, stupor, spontaneous abortion, collapse, and even death! Despite the possibility of side effects from overdoses, sassafras oil was often used as a flavoring. In fact, it was used to smother the taste of opium in potions given to many 19th century children to keep them calm and “well behaved”.

Sassafras in the kitchen

Not all uses of the versatile herb are medicinal. The leaves, dried and powdered, are the to file used in Creole cooking and to thicken flavor soups. The dried root bark, steeped in a tea that was served with milk and sugar, made a popular drink called “saloop” offered to almost every street corner in England through the early 1900s. More recently, the Food and Drug Administration in 1960 performed tests on the chemical constituent safrole, which showed that massive amounts in rats caused liver cancer in rodents. This prompted a ban on sales of sassafras tea … but not, he may notice, on nutmeg, pepper, star anise or regular Chinese tea all contain the substance. Safrole is practically insoluble in water, however, which may help explain the long history of sassafras tea of ​​obviously safe use.

Sassafras in nature

Sassafras can be found a tree, shrub, or bush, depending on where it grows. Smooth and orange-brown when young, the bark becomes rough and grayish with age of the grass. The plant’s most distinctive identifying trait is its array of bright green-yellow leaves in the fall, which can have a “mix” of several shapes: oval, mittenlike, and tri-lobed! The roots are large and woody with rough, spongy bark. The grass is found in somewhat arid, sandy loam along highways and in the timber borders of Massachusetts to Michigan, Iowa and Kansas, and south to Florida and Texas. Two good sources of sassafras are Forestfarm and Naturalistes, in Yorktown Heights.


For more helpful guides on how to grow and use herbs, see Grow sage in your herb garden to symbolize success, Grow calendula for your organic gardenand The refreshing borage herb.

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Published Jul 1, 1983


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