Friday, January 21, 2011

World's Largest Sassafras Tree

Another first for the Commonwealth! Not only do we have dibs on the world's largest skillet, world's largest picnic, and the world's largest baseball bat, but the world's largest sassafras tree can be seen on Frederica Street in Owensboro, KY.

I just found out about this fascinating factoid this very morning; had I known, I would've swung by here and taken photos when I was in Owensboro a couple years ago on a BBQ-tasting jaunt. In the meantime, I found it on Google Maps (images above and below), somewhere in the general vicinity of 87.111857W 37.754455N.

According to Roadside America:

The champion sassafras was threatened by the widening of a highway in 1957. But when the bulldozers came, owner Grace Rash was waiting with her shotgun. She held them off at gunpoint until a call to the governor resulted in the building of a retaining wall to protect the tree.

Now, you may be thinking this isn't a particularly impressive example as trees go, but just know that the sassafras generally reaches only 40 feet tall on average, and this one is over 100 feet tall. It's estimated to be around 250-300 years old.

I also found a blog post by local realtor Vickie McCartney with her own photos of the tree, one of which appears below.

Sassafras is probably best known for the tea made from its roots and bark, and it was also a key ingredient in real root beer. The active ingredient is Safrole, is well known for its medicinal properties but unfortunately banned by the FDA as a mild carcinogen in 1960 and listed as a "drug manufacture precursor" in 2004 by the United Nations.

Why? Apparently Safrole can be used to manufacture the street-drug Ecstacy, which is said to provide light feelings of euphoria, intimacy, calmness, and reduced anxiety and depression. Now, I'm no fan of drugs of any kind - I don't even like taking Tylenol for a headache, and I'm a total lightweight when it comes to sipping our beloved Kentucky bourbon - but why is this stuff banned even for controlled usage by doctors at the same time as far more harmful psychopharmaceutical drugs are legally pushed on people by Big Pharma? I'd rather see people go back to the time-honored hillbilly tradition of drinking sassafras tea than for anyone to ingest any of the evil junk that Pfizer has to offer.

Oh yeah, and as for the carcinogen bit, Wikipedia has this to say:

Safrole is regarded by the U.S. government to be a weak carcinogen in rats. It naturally occurs in a variety of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and herbs such as basil. In that role safrole is believed, although not proven, to make a small but measurable contribution to the overall incidence of human cancer, equal to the hazards presented by orange juice (due to limonene) and tomatoes (caffeic acid).

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