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Sassafras festival preparations in full swing

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The scent of sassafras root drying on tables throughout the Jennings County Historical Society Museum building is a sign of an annual rite of spring in Vernon.

But the Sassafras Tea Festival, which has celebrated the root for more than 53 years, has a new name thanks to the success of some additional events last year.

Renamed the inaugural Sassafras Tea Festival and Civil War Living History event, it will take place April 26 and 27 on the Jennings County Courthouse lawn off the Vernon town square.

“Last years year’s Civil War mock battles and Civil War era encampments were so successful we are expanding the festival to include them,” said Amanda Wright, administrator of the Jennings County Historical Society’s museum.

The festival also will include a working blacksmith shop, a Blue and Grey Ball, a tour of Underground Railroad sites in Vernon, art and craft displays and food vendors.

The year’s festival will continue to celebrate the sassafras root, which was used for centuries to make a tea that was used both as a medicine and a beverage.

Volunteers have been working more than six weeks to harvest and prepare the sassafras roots that will be used to make the tea, which again will be served at no charge throughout the festival.

“The recipe for the tea has been handed down from one generation to another,” said Jennings County Historical Society organizer Chris Asher, who said gathering the sassafras root is difficult.

“Dave Heilman uses the excavating equipment from his business to dig up the roots. He volunteers every year. I don’t know if we could dig up enough roots to make all the tea we give away during the festival if it weren’t for him,” Asher said.

After the sassafras roots are dug up, they must be cut, split, washed and dried. Sassafras root shavings are scattered around the museum floor, where volunteers use mallets and chisels to cut and split the roots into 3-inch pieces.

The pieces are washed and laid side-by-side on tables throughout the museum building.

The festival is free and open to the public.

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