Tag Archives: The Five Civilized Tribes

Sassy Sassafras, the Root Beer Tree

My grandfather, Thomas Elmer Woods, learned a lot from the Five Civilized Tribes: medicine, ceremonial dancing, and how to survive.

After his mother died soon after giving birth to him and his twin sister, his sister was sent to live with relatives in the Pacific Northwest. Elmer headed to Indian Territory, Oklahoma, in a covered wagon with his mother’s brother and his wife. He was two weeks old, and the year was 1884.

Native American Ways

Indian Territory consisted of the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks (Muscogees), and Seminoles, along with twenty-two other tribes.

Elmer got along well with his Native American neighbors. They trusted him enough to let him dance with them whenever he wanted. They taught him their secrets of survival, like how to use roots, leaves, bark and plants to make medicines.

He used that knowledge for his family, and for others, his whole life. The longevity his eleven children enjoyed speaks for the wisdom of those natural preventives.

Case in point – my mother. She’s 88 years young and still bakes the best pies you ever tasted, does her own grocery shopping, drives thousands of miles by herself and can still cut a rug when she really wants to.

She’s Elmer’s eighth child, and one of the tonics she grew up on was sassafras tea.

Thinning (purifying) the blood

Elmer insisted that his family members drink sassafras tea liberally every spring to thin their blood after the long, harsh Oklahoma and Missouri winters.

Sassafras trees, with their irregular lobed leaves and aromatic bark, grew wild and plentiful in the woods. Elmer gathered roots every spring. After thoroughly cleaning a root, or hunks ofSassafrass Roots root, he placed it in a pot of water to boil. Soon, the water turned a beautiful clear pink. When the family was fortunate enough to buy sugar, they added it to the spicy tea, along with fresh cow cream.

It didn’t take much persuasion for eleven little country kids to want to start thinning their blood and ridding themselves of their sluggish winter bodies!

As a very young child, I remember seeing a pan on my grandma’s stove with a big tree root poking out of the top. That was fascinating! The tea tasted wonderful, and I wanted lots and lots.

Later on, when I was a teenager and more snooty sophisticated, I doubted my granddad’s theory about sassafras tea thinning the blood.

How ridiculous, I thought.

Pure folklore.


Then I grew enough brain cells to check it out for myself.

I found out that sassafras tea is recognized as a natural anticoagulant.

Anticoagulant = blood thinner. Fancy that.

Ever notice how much smarter grownups got after our teen years?

In early America, sassafras and tobacco were the main exports from the colonies to England. Sassafras was revered for its medicinal qualities, as well as for the beauty of its wood.

Alas, sassafras tree byproducts, including sassafras tea, are controversial these days, which is why it isn’t the main ingredient in root beer anymore.

The dried and ground sassafras leaves are still used to make filé powder for certain types of gumbo.

And lots of people just go right on using the mysterious tree’s bark, leaves, and roots.

A good argument in favor of doing that might be my granddad. He lived into his eighties with no medicines other than the natural ones he learned from The Five Civilized Tribes. He hand-delivered all of his eleven children, survived total economic depression with nothing but his two hands to make a living and played a mean banjo and fiddle with no lessons.

Maybe there really is something to “thinning the blood” with sassafras tea every spring. You think?

Have you ever tasted sassafras tea? Did you know it was the main flavoring in root beer at one time, or that some people thought of the sassafras tree as the root beer tree? Did your family use any old-timey “medicines” that didn’t come from a pharmacy?

I love to hear from you.

Just for fun . . .

Borrowing unauthorized media is driving me to the edge.

Borrowing unauthorized media is driving me to the edge.





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If you like Sassy, Danger and Mystery, you'll love my any-age novels. Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT and Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: CANYON OF DOOM are available at your nearest Barnes & Noble Bookseller, on this website, Amazon, B&N.com and more. For your convenience, it’s also available on Kindlethe Nook and most other eBook readers.

Book Three of the Silki trilogy, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, launches fall 2016. Here's a quick synopsis:

Bummed that yet another summer has passed all too quickly, Silki and her best friend Birdie head out for one last hurrah at the Navajo Nation Fair. When the fun is overshadowed by the theft of a famous horse, Silki is plunged into a baffling adventure teeming with international undercurrents and intrigue. What’s more, boy-crazy Birdie is fluttering her eyelashes at Silki’s good-looking, visiting cousin at every turn, and Rez legend Old Man Concho is coughing up secrets dating back to 1942. What possible connection could he have to the Japanese tourists, and will Silki discover an ancient truth about the Valley of Shadows in time to save Lava, the leader of the Ghost Herd, as well as salvage her own broken heart?

Meet my CANYON OF DOOM AND VALLEY OF SHADOWS illustrator, the Drawing Hands.

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.