The root beer we find on the grocery store shelves today is a far cry from its healthful ancestor. Homemade “root beer” is a purifying tonic whose roots are firmly planted in Native American medicine.
Old-fashioned root beer, the modern-day version that is, often conjures up images of drive-in movies, ice cream floats and lazy summer afternoons. Originally a tonic created using various roots; this modern day sugar laden beverage actually has its origins in Native American medicine. The “roots” used to make the authentic Native American “roots” beer contain properties that assist the body in the elimination of toxins.
The burdock root, sarsaparilla and sassafras work to purify the blood. Wintergreen, containing salicylates, adds a refreshing taste while at the same time providing a natural painkiller – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compound similar to aspirin. The cinnamon and ginger have warming characteristics and work to stimulate circulation. The vanilla bean and sarsaparilla have a reputation for being aphrodisiacs. Maybe they are the ingredients that make root beer so popular.
Gathering Your Own Sassafras Roots, Bark or Stems
Sassafras can be found growing wild all across the eastern United States and Canada. It has long been a root traditionally used to create the unique flavor of root beer. The key ingredient in sassafras is safrole. The FDA banned safrole from commercial food use in the early 60s. At that time, studies found that rats who were fed large amounts developed liver damage or cancer. However, according to Toxnet, after extrapolating human exposure based on the rodent carcinogens a person who drank a sassafras root beer everyday would have less carcinogenic risk than if drinking beer or wine daily.
Then in 1994, the Dietary Supplemental Health and Education Act lifted the ban on sassafras oil. Many microbreweries still use sassafras when making their root beer today.
Just as the Native Americans did for hundreds of years, people all across the native range of sassafras continue to harvest it and make homemade root beer yearly with no apparent detriment to their health. If you feel adventurous and would like to go out and harvest some of your own to make your sassafras root beer, here is what you need to look for. If you are unsure as to whether a root or stem that you have gathered is sassafras, just break the root or stem and smell it. If it is sassafras, it will smell just like root beer.
If you do not have sassafras readily available to you, it can be purchased online and at many health food stores.
Homemade Sassafras Root Beer
If you want to try your hand at making a delicious detoxifying tonic, try the recipe below and then relax and enjoy the flavors.
Natural “Roots” Beer Recipe
4 cinnamon sticks
½ cup sassafras bark
½ cup sarsaparilla root
¼ cup burdock root
½ teaspoon anise seeds (You can use fennel if desired.)
4 allspice berries
½ cup dried Wintergreen leaves
1 tablespoon dried orange peel
3 half-inch slices fresh ginger root
1 vanilla bean
4 cups purified water
½ cup honey
4 cups carbonated mineral water
Scrub the roots and bark clean of any dirt. If necessary, cut the roots and bark into small one half-inch long pieces. It may be necessary to use a pair of pruning shears to accomplish this task.
In a 3 quart pan, mix together the herbs, orange peel, ginger and vanilla bean. Add the purified water and mix well.
Bring to a boil, cover pot and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat.
Strain through cheesecloth or a paper towel lined fine mesh sieve. Add the honey to the hot herbal tea mixture and stir well. Taste and add more honey if more sweetness is desired. Allow the mixture to cool.
When ready to serve, add the carbonated mineral water, stir well, and pour over glasses filled with ice. Serve immediately.
Makes 8 cups
To create a healthier version of the traditional root beer float, try your homemade root beer recipe with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.
So if you’re looking for a historic and flavorful detoxifying tonic, root beer just might be what the doctor ordered. If you’re looking for that familiar and favorite root beer flavor, but don’t want all the sugar and artificial flavors, making your own homemade sassafras root beer just might be the answer.