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High Tea: Spring Equinox is Sassafras Tea Time!
Sassafras tea is a wonderful way to welcome spring time and recharge your soul for gardening season. In my second book, High Tea, I show you how to make the cannabis infused version too!
Sassafras, sometimes called “Spice Bush” is a classic American botanical, a relative to bay, camphor, cinnamon in the Laurel family of trees and shrubs, and native to the mid-south, Appalachia, and the southern US. Rural folk and native American folk in these regions have used and revered sassafras as both medicinal and as a culinary ingredient. Root beer, a beverage loved by many, and an American institution, was first brewed in the 19th century using sassafras root bark. Sassafras smells and tastes just like old-fashioned classic root beer.
My grandfather introduced me to the root bark tea of sassafras when I was an elementary school-aged child before it was made illegal for sale in 1977. Sassafras bark, a traditional favorite of the rural bible belt, was caught in the net of the drug war and a health scare campaign until it was re-legalized for sale in the mid 1990s.
Sassafras produces an oil called safrole oil which is responsible for the fragrance and flavor of sassafras—but this oil is also known as a precursor for the production of “Ecstasy” or MDMA, a psychedelic drug. Sale of the essential oil is restricted and monitored closely by the DEA for this reason. You cannot buy safrole oil (sassafras essential oil) on the commercial retail market.
Around the time sassafras root bark was banned for sale by the FDA, another “scare” campaign based on only animal studies, (there have never been any human studies) about the supposed carcinogenic effects of sassafras (namely high concentrations of its oil). It’s not surprising that the ban on selling Sassafras in the USA was lifted only 20 years after its prohibition: It’s a “carcinogenic” with no human body count—and it would have been impossible to eradicate this prolific and wild-growing native tree that was still being harvested and used by rural folk in the bible belt much to the chagrin of the government nannies.
The most dangerous aspect of sassafras is the essential oil, which, if consumed neatly is quite poisonous. But who does that? The answer is no one does that. First, the pure essential oil is not accessible on the consumer market, and it doesn’t make sense to think that people who drink the tea of the root bark are in any way interested in drinking the essential oil. Imagine how sick you might get if you drank a bottle of lavender essential oil, that would likely result in a trip to the hospital and possible organ damage too. But, drinking lavender flower tea, or using lavender flowers to flavor a cake or ice cream is perfectly safe. I believe this is the same scenario with sassafras for the most part.
Sassafras root bark was traditionally used as a spring tonic in the Appalachian states which is where my grandfather’s family practiced this tradition. It was drank as a tea in the early spring a few times to dispel the sluggishness of winter. Sassafras is not, and never has been a “daily” beverage like coffee and tea and is not recommended or intended for that use. I strongly advise new users of sassafras to consume only seasonally and in a moderate fashion following the tradition of this botanical. Sassafras has some analgesic effects as well which are useful for those of us who have a hard time getting our joints and bodies to cooperate when it’s time to start our gardens or farms in the spring.
There is nothing quite like enjoying sassafras tea in the early spring to invigorate the blood, body, and soul! I’ve been drinking sassafras tea about once a week in the early spring for many years and attest to its remarkable properties of invigoration and dispelling the last of the winter sluggishness!
There are two main ways to prepare sassafras tea, the first is to boil and drink the root bark only, and the second is to boil the root bark and mix the sassafras tea liquid 50-50 with regular black tea such as breakfast tea or assam tea. Either one can be consumed hot, cold, or sweetened. Additionally, the 50-50 mix is sometimes favored as an iced tea in the hottest part of summer.
Keep in mind that when preparing the root bark boiling times of 15-30 minutes is necessary to extract the compounds and flavors. This can be diluted in any amount that suits your tastes. I will often prepare a 1/4 cup of root bark and boil it down for 30 minutes into a concentrate kept in a pint jar and used to make either hot or cold tea.
These days you can purchase the bark, fresh, from people who own land where this grows on marketplaces like Etsy, or on roadside stands if you are driving through that part of the USA. Those two places are my personal recommendation for purchasing fresh Sassafras bark, as I have not had good luck purchasing authentic and fresh root bark from Amazon. YMMV.
Sassafras is a lovely companion botanical for both cannabis and psychedelic plant and fungi medicines in addition to its use as a traditional spring tonic. You can find a recipe for a cannabis-infused version in my book High Tea!