The Storyteller

Learn Native Culture through Cooking and Storytelling

Stop back every month for a new Native story and recipe to go with it.

June's Story and Recipe

June's Story - How Sassafras came to be

A long time ago, there was a village not too far from here, it was a good place to live. Everyone had enough to eat and the people were happy. One young couple had a baby, everyone in the village was happy. All the grandmothers and grandfathers came to see the baby, who was wrapped tightly in a blanket. One of the grandmothers pulled the blanket away from the baby and she noticed something about his hands. All the joy was suddenly gone for the baby's hands had no fingers or thumbs. The Elders talked about what they could do to help this baby because going through life with no fingers or thumbs would be difficult. One of the Elders knew of a place where there was special water but it took half a year to walk there and half a year to come home. One of the men volunteered to go and sacrifice to leave his family for a year. During that time the little boy grew, he laughed and he smiled, and only cried when he needed to. At the end of the year the man returned with the water, they took the boys hands, poured the water over them, and a thumb popped out.  Everyone was very happy. It was decided that they needed more water. So another man volunteered to leave his family for a year. When the man returned the boy was now two years old, he laughed and played, he only cried when he needed to and he was everyone's special friend. When they poured the water over his hands a little finger popped out. They decided that they needed more water. Another man volunteered to leave his family for a year. When he returned they poured the water over the little boys hands but this time nothing happened and it was ok because as the younf boy grew he was everyone's special friend. He loved to take care of the small children and he would play and take care of them when the mothers and grandmothers went to work in the fields. One day when the boy was about twelve, he was watching the children when a bear came into the village and there was something wrong with the bear. The bear attacked the children. The special friend told the children to hide and he ran up to the bear and smacked it in the nose to get it's attention. It chased him as he ran into his mother's house, he picked up his father's bow and arrow and he tried to shoot the arrow but he only wounded the bear. The bear grabbed special friend and killed him. The people heard the screams of the children and the men returning from hunting killed the bear but it was too late, special friend could not be saved. The whole village mourned the loss of special friend. The people decided that they wanted to mark his burial place in a special way. They put a earth mound over where they buried him and the men would go out and keep the mound neat and they would keep big plants from growing on it so that when people passed they would ask, " What is this place, what does it mean?" Then the people would tell the story of special friend. One day one of the men went out to take care of the mound and noticed a little tree growing from the mound so he pulled it out, the next day when he went out there was a slightly bigger tree growing so he pulled that out as well. The third day he went out there was a little tree growing that was even taller so he pulled that out as well. On the fourth day he went out there was yet again a tree growing that was even taller than the day before. He did not pull this tree because he knew something very unusual was happening. He went to get the Elders. He told them what he had seen and showed them the tree on the mound. They decided to go away for four days and then go back at the end of those four days. When they returned, the Tree was displaying its leaves, the people noticed that unlike other trees this tree had three distinct leaves growing on it. As the people looked at the tree in wonder they heard a voice coming from the mound, it was the voice of special friend and it said, "My relatives, I miss you, so I have sent a part of me to be with you and if you are feeling sad take the roots from my tree and make a special tea of them, it will make you feel much better." The people realized that the three distinct leaves on the trees were like special friends hands. One hand closed with the fingers laying beside each other, one leaf showing his thumb and lastly one leaf showing his thumb and little finger. So they named the tree after special friend and his name was Sassafras.

June Recipe - Sassafras Tea

4 Sassafras roots about 2 inches long

1 and half quarts water

Clean roots well scraping away the bark. Place roots and bark scrapings along with water in a large pan and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.