Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a tree native to North America, and what we have to thank for root beer! Every single part of the Sassafras tree has been utilized by humans at one point or another. Native Americans of the southeastern regions of the United States used the leaves of the Sassafras tree for its medicinal properties. Sassafras also has a rich history of being used to flavor foods. One notable use was as filé powder – a spice made from the ground-up dried leaves of the sassafras tree – which was used by the Choctaw people to cook, and is perhaps a precursor to gumbo, a staple Creole dish. Sassafras roots used to be the main ingredient in root beer, but when researchers found that it could cause liver damage, the FDA banned it in 1960, and root beer companies switched to using methyl salicylate (which is the oil of wintergreen bark).
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Photos taken at Old Town June 2022.