Appalachia Appalachian Food Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Sassafras Tea


Nothing Like Sass Tea, Yellow Mountain – John Parris “Mountain Cooking”

For many an old-timer still clinging to customs of the past, it’s sassafras-digging time back in the hills.

They are searching out the tender roots of a tree that in another age rated with the spices of Ormuz and Araby as a precious substance.

These are folks who take sassafras tea, or “sass” tea, as they call it, regularly, each year as a spring tonic. They will tell you that it thins the blood and prepares the body to better stand the coming heat of summer. But some of them are so foolish about the flavor of sassafras tea that they drink it not only in the spring but throughout the year.

Sassafras tea is simple to make. Just put a handful of the roots into a kettle, add a bit more water than you want tea, and boil it until it turns a nice red color. Take it straight or sweeten to taste and drink hot or iced. The same roots can be used to make tea several times before the flavor is expended.

Some folks-mostly those who didn’t grow up on sassafras tea-object to the medicinal flavor of it. But they have things backward. Some medicines are flavored with sassafras, but this merely means some medicines taste of sassafras, and not that sassafras tastes of medicine.

Drinking sassafras tea was once thought to make the drinker lose weight and become thin. A balladeer of the times captured the thought in these lines:

I got so thin on sass’frus tea
I could hide behind a straw.

But nobody has ever really proved that drinking sassafras tea is a real help in losing weight, albeit old timers who make a habit of it run to leanness.


Although I’ve never made sassafras tea myself, I have drunk a cup or two. The taste reminded me of root beer.

I’ve heard folks say too much sassafras tea is bad for you, I guess that points to the whole thinning your blood thing.


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  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    I love all things sassafras. I have file right up there with my spices and often make Hank Williams’ “Filet Gumbo.” As far as worrying about cancer in a natural product, I just never do. I figure if God put it here and we have ate it thousands of years it is okay. I do mistrust too much processed foods, because I don’t like to eat an additive I cannot pronounce. Many natural plants and herbs have healing properties, and they are just so much more interesting in every way.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 11, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Tipper–I can’t resist letting B. Ruth know that her mother was likely being a tad politically correct, maidenly, dainty, or whatever when she talked about ladies carrying sweet shrub in the purses. I would suggest that more frequently they carried it on their “person” than in their purse. After all, a colloquial name for sweet shrub, and it was the name commonly used by folks where I grew up, was “bubbies.” That was because it was commonplace for mountain women, who didn’t have the luxury of bathing nearly as often in yesteryear as is the case today, often slipped a bloom of it next to their bosom as nature’s own deodorant. In other words they put the flower against their “boobs,” and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the word “bubbies” was born.

    Jim Casada

    P. S. I simply couldn’t resist:)

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    June 11, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    I used to drink sassafras tea with my dad when I was little and I loved the taste.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    So many interesting plants mentioned today. Wonder if you could do a photo album of these plants and their parts as they look in different seasons specifying usable parts and their purpose; also wonder if any grow in Central Texas – I’d love to try them!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    June 11, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    I had sassafras tea when I was younger, Mom had a recipe to carbonate it and it did taste like Root Beer.I also chewed the tender leaves as a youngster, they were tasty also. Once when my Dad had told me to cut some firewood I cut some green sassafras as it was handy, when Dad got home he was very irritated and I remember him telling me that green sassafras wouldn’t burn in h+ll with the blowers on. After this I never cut any more for firewood.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 11, 2018 at 11:06 am

    I ain’t never had sassafras tea, I’ve chewed or knawed on the tender shoots tho. I think that a lot of that hogwash about causing cancer is folks trying to help the Drug Companies. Anything is taken in proportion. Anyway, as Lee stated in his comment, I’m a Coffee Nut and have several cups during the day. …Ken

  • Reply
    Rick Shepherd
    June 11, 2018 at 10:27 am

    I enjoy everyone of your posts, Tipper!…..This one especially so as it brings thoughts of home and Grandma Alma so long ago!…..Thank You!…..Rick and Mary

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 9:10 am

    You know the FDA issues reports saying this and that causes cancer in lab animals but they are forgetting something. Them poor little critters can’t even read!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Mom made sassafras tea and served it hot when one of the kids had a sore throat. I remember it tasted good and sweet. If we quit eating and drinking everything they say causes cancer, we would starve to death. They still haven’t made up their mind about coffee. Daddy always said coffee won’t hurt you, but that artificial stuff we put in it sure will.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A. Paule
    June 11, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Interesting, makes you wonder how generation after generation drank it year after year with no ill effects and now it causes cancer. Hummmm

    • Reply
      Joe Mode
      June 30, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      I love Sassafras tea and have some roots in a Mason jar as we speak. Sassafras wood is great for whittling too. Did you know that Sassafras trees are the only trees that I know of that have three distinctive leaves on the same tree?
      The leaves are oval, bilobed, sometimes referred to as the mitten shaped, and trilobed.
      My wife’s uncle said they used to mash the end of a green Sassafras twig and use it as a toothbrush. Oh, and if you crunch up the leaves of a Sassafras tree in the Fall they smell like Fruit Loops. Try it!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 8:31 am

    My dad drank it. Sometimes he would threaten me with a dose of sassafras tea when I did something he didn’t approve of. This tea had no relation to the roots though. He cut off a switch to use for my dose.

    • Reply
      June 11, 2018 at 9:12 am

      Mine was birch tea and it wudden my dad it was my mother that administered it!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 11, 2018 at 8:21 am

    My Mother made sassafras tea at least once a year…Usually in the Spring. When she couldn’t get the roots herself she would find a local grocer or side of the road vendor that sold it in bundles. I remember going to the little store across the street from our house, that sold it in bundles. They were tied with string, about four to six inches long about as around as a thick drinking glass of the day…that would be early fifties…maybe one of the those old barrel shaped tumblers…Do you remember seeing those anywhere in your mountain antique shopping?
    I love the taste of sassafras…and we used to chew on the little sticks…
    Then the scientist told all that it was bad for you and could cause cancer, etc…I don’t think a Springtime splurge is going to hurt anything…I do think eating all these processed flours and foods are much worse with the added chemicals, etc…not counting breathing all the fume filled air…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I love going to the woods this time of year for a good sniff of teaberry. One of my all time favorites is the heart shaped leaves of the Little Brown Jug plant, as I have called it for years! Break a few leaves and it smells like heaven to me…Oh and don’t forget our native Sweet Shrub…Momma said they picked those and put in their hankies and carried in there purses or pockets…Right now our Magnolia is intoxicating the air with fragrance…along with the white native Honeysuckle…Yummm! Oh…do those taste sweet as honey when you partake of a blossom or three…however watch for a stray black ant…lol

    • Reply
      June 13, 2018 at 8:16 am

      I’m with you, B. Ruth…there are a lot of things that might kill me, but I’m not worried about being killed by sassafras. And I also love the smell of teaberry leaves – even in Winter if I can find them 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 11, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Once my brother and I boiled a fresh sassafrass root dug – as best I recall – about May and it made a gel. It was not drinkable.

    As with the black birch, I expect the dried and powdered inner bark would make a nice tea or spice. The cajun file powder TMC mentions though is made – I think – from the dried leaves. It is as much or more a thickener, like okra, than a spice. I sometimes chew the tender twig ends of sassafrass when I’m in the woods. A little goes a long way.

    It is off the subject a bit but sassafrass is a pretty wood. I expect some of the dulcimer makers use it.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 8:04 am

    Interesting! As glad to know this.
    But I think I’ll just leave the sassafras and the sasparillia right in the ground and make another pot of Dunkin coffee!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 7:20 am

    I love the taste of sassafras tea, and I also love the color sassafras leaves turn in the Autumn. One of my favorites! Here’s a fact you may find interesting: the folks on the Gosnold expedition to the coast of Massachusetts and Maine in 1602 stuffed their ship with sassafras (I don’t recall if it was roots specifically) to take back to England. It was thought to cure syphilis!

  • Reply
    aw griffgrowin
    June 11, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Like you Tipper, I ‘ve had a cup or two, but never made any. I have chewed a lot of the young green bark.
    It really makes your saliva flow.
    I think the FDA list it as a cancer causer.

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    June 11, 2018 at 6:56 am

    Love good sassafras tea want to dig some roots this fall or winter.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 11, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Tip, once when the Dear Hunter was a little boy I found some sassafras and made a pitcher of tea. It tasted so good I drank a bunch of it. I don’t think I’ve had it since. It irritated the inside of my mouth so much that I never wanted any more! The Deer Hunter and Papaw Tony wouldn’t drink it, I guess they were the smart ones!

  • Reply
    June 11, 2018 at 5:36 am

    In my younger years I would drink it in the spring and some during the summer, but haven’t in a while, they claim that the oils in the plant called safrole when large amounts were administered into lab animals would cause cancer, so I quite drinking it, but the dried leaves are used in some cajun cooking, most recommend just don’t over do it. Problem is I don’t know how to measure that.

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