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Growing up in the rural mountains of TN I have also had some exposure to wild edible plants and herbs. I have heard of sassafras tea all of my life, though I've never tried it. I have to say I was very surprised by the fact of its high toxicity. My family has a nursery and my mother mentioned a gentleman from LA contacting her desiring to purchase sassafras trees. He told her that they collected the leaves in fall and ground them to use in traditional Cajun cuisine. Another plant I am accustomed to hearing used as a spring tonic is Rat's vein (common name), a small evergreen plant that grows wild in the mountains near my home. And my grandmother often served Poke Salet mixed with turnip greens and scrambled eggs. Of course I must mention the fact that the berries make excellent dye, in elementary school I had a friend dye her bunny rabbit with them, now that I reflect on this I hope it didn't make the rabbit ill. And if old wives tales prove correct over handling of elderberry plants may induce nausea and vomiting. As Melody mentioned many plants are gathered from the wild to their detriment, wild Ginseng has also been collected from the mountains near my home. There are many wild plants that are wonderful for many different reasons, pieces and parts of these plants can be collected in a way that doesn't disrupt its environment, but I would be very cautious of ingesting any unfamiliar plant. Thanks for the great article.
Isn't ground sassafras what is called file (acute accent over the "e" and pronounced FEE-lay) in Cajun cuisine, as in "file gumbo"? Another interesting aspect of sassafras is that it has three differently shaped leaves.
Yes, I have a jar of file' and use it rarely and sparingly. I've had sassafras tea, and remember the roots being sold in little bundles in our country grocery stores. (mid 60's in west KY)
As far as polk berries harming animals...I highly doubt it. animals know what to eat and what to stay away from. My dog, (a Sheltie with a large white mane) got into a patch of polk chasing a critter. She came out pink from the berries. I washed her off with the waterhose and Dawn (an affront to her dignity) and she was none the worse for wear.