Say the word in a whisper. It flows like a gentle breeze off the tongue.
It's a great moniker and a curious plant, one with a unique claim to fame.
The early English colonists in North America along the Atlantic coastline were eager to find gold and silver as the Spanish had done in South America. They found neither. They did find lots and lots of trees. Looking for something of value, the Elizabethans learned that the Native Americans drank sassafras tea as something of a “cure all.” (In the age before wonder drugs, everyone was desperate to find one.)
Hoping to make a little money, Sir Walter Raleigh took sassafras back to England from Virginia. The miracle elixir made from its roots became all the rage, spawning the “Great Sassafras Hunts.” Ships were dispatched from England in the early 1600s to collect the medicinal roots and bark that were brewed into the tonic. Billed as a proverbial Fountain of Youth, the golden brown tea smelled like root beer and supposedly kept its drinkers ageless and full of health. Sassafras teahouses became as fashionable in England as Starbucks are in Manhattan today.
The craze ended when drinkers realized they were indeed still aging, and perhaps not the picture of health they had hoped to be. As TV journalist Linda Ellerbee was prone to say, “And so it goes.”
This past week, on a neighborhood walk, I encountered a sassafras tree beginning to molt into its fall color. I left its roots intact and took only a photo, which in itself, will never age.