Warm, sunny, and beautiful Spring weather is finally here--which means its wild-foraging for sassafras time! What does wild-foraging mean? it means exactly as it sounds like--Aly, my partner-daughter, and I actually do labor-intensive WORK, complete with sweating, aching muscles, muddy hands, dusty clothes, and dirt covering us from head to foot! We laugh and joke with a lot of love flowing between us. We do whatever serious work it'll take to wild-forage our sassafras components for your future teas; because, we absolutely ENJOY what we do! It's fantastic communing with nature, traisping through dense foliage and shrubbery, and meandering around different kinds of trees, some that are young saplings, some that have more ancient, scarred trunks. Overhead, tree limbs soar into the sky, their leafy branches intertwining, exposing patches of blue sky and fluffy clouds.
During one recent trip, Aly and I carried several tools. We carried backpacks holding our water; because, we get pretty thirsty exerting all that force to harvest sassafras. :-) We used our rake to pull and shove aside prickly branches, while trudging through old leaf debris, sinking our sneakers into soggy ground, and pulling and raking poison ivy out of the way. We spotted our target sassafras tree and began to carefully peel away the bark from one side of the tree and dig up roots. We took turns sitting on a plywood board using our hands and tools to dig. But, we ended up sitting on our rear ends and crawling on hands and knees. lol! :-D Meanwhile, we contended with the critters of the earth--the occasional spider, grub, worm, flying insects, slug, heat, and humidity. Did you know if you're angry or frustrated with something bothering, why raking, digging, banging does wonders to clear your mind and soul. And, you can do whatever yelling you'd like! :-) Our sassafras bark and roots in raw form are mixed with quite a bit of soft dirt that later has to be carefully sifted, filtered, tiny rocks and gravel, small roots of other plants are plucked out, and an occasional little critter of the earth, and washed and rinsed many times in cool water. The resulting cleaned sassafras is slowly and carefully dried, then hand-chopped with a sharp knife. Manually chopping sassafras helps us to control the size of the pieces, as they can't be too large or too small. As we work, we can smell the heady, aromatic, wonderful scent of the sassfrass bark and roots.
After we completed the harvesting of the bark piece and roots, then we went to another tree to pluck off a number of choice leaves for later washing and careful drying. We always say thank you to the sassafras trees for their gifts. A harvester usually works on one side of a tree, so that side can have time to heal; and we strive not to shock a tree. When we finish a side, we always rake leaves and dirt, to cover the cuts and digs. We believe in leaving the smallest footprint possible pertaining to the health of the earth and an ecosystem.
Wild-foraging for sassafras is hard and dirty work; but, we LOVE it! :-D As we dig, hoe, and rake, we sometimes accidentally toss dirt onto each other. We laugh and giggle, dirt covers us, and dirt slides into our sneakers. Our hands are muddy and dirt encrusts under our fingernails. The sun and air feel so good, and we know that our physical exertion is healthy for our bodies and minds. And, you know what? We're involved in a type of spiritual experience! :-)
Historically, the components of the sassafras tree have uses and benefits. Following are just a few:
Raw sassafras bark and roots can be gently simmered to make a great spring tonic, a blood purifier. Sassafras has also been used for high blood pressure, arthritis, and gout. Applying sassafras directly to achy joints can be helpful. Sassafras oil application to the head and hair can help kill head lice and applied topically to the skin can help destroy germs. Chewing a young, fresh, green twig can help freshen your breath. :-) Dried, crush sassafras leaves can be ground to a fine powder to make file, a thickener and seasoning used in gumbo soup! Regular crushed, dried sassafras leaves can be added to soups and stews as a delightful seasoning. Fresh young leaves are wonderful additions to salads. Sassafras tea, ginger ale, and a few other ingredients create the BEST root beer, too, complete with ice cubes! How about adding dried sassafras bark and root pieces to your favorite potpourri mix or use alone? Smelling the aromatic, earthy scent emanating from dried sassafras is an absolutely exquisite experience! I fully believe the aroma helps alleviate my occasional depression and anxiety, at least for me personally :-)