Source of Traditional Tonic

By William T. Hathaway

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Over a period of several years early spring roadsides would taunt me with an occasional showcase of leafless stalks topped with yellow flowers. As an amateur botanist, I vowed that I would someday stop the car and identify these commonplace sentinels of my curiosity. Satisfaction was realized at a later date, when the well-known three odd-shaped leaves on a sassafras shrub bore a lingering a cluster of yellow blooms. “Ah!” thought I, “This is an experience proving that our sophisticated, botanical knowledge isn't necessarily without its limitations.”

Writers have said that this species has been considered a cure for everything that ails one. Country folks have for years thought of the plant as a “springtime tonic.”