That plant wasn’t really a plant at all but a young tree…or a sapling. It was a sassafras tree. I began to see more and more. As I continued my walk, I began to see them all over. We have a sassafras forest! Sassafras is really famous for one thing. Root Beer! Well, its actually famous for a number of things, but root beer would probably be the one most likely remembered by anyone currently over the age of 50. I’m 37 at the writing of this post and the only reason I knew about sassafras is because I have an edible plants book that I look through quite often.
ROOT BEER! My family basically never gave in to buying soda at the store. It’s unhealthy and full of sugar…actually it doesn’t have any sugar at all these days…its just a chemical compound called “high fructose corn syrup”. But either way its not healthy for you. Root beer made from actual sassafras hasn’t been legal since the 1960’s because the FDA (in all their wisdom) decided it caused cancer. Root beer today uses a chemical compound to give you that sassafras taste. ACTUALLY, sassafras was very well known throughout Europe in the 18th century to cure a number of ailments. These included urinary tract disorders, gonorrhea and syphilis. At one point, sassafras was this continent’s largest export!
In the 1960’s, the FDA with its bureaucratic leadership being deep in the pockets of the super rich drug companies, realized that there is no money in a plant that cures ailments that are mostly a result of sexual promiscuity (after all its the 60’s). So, the FDA decided to rig up a scam in which they fed a truck load of the stuff to a few lab rats and claimed they all came down with cancer. YAY! The FDA banned sassafras for public use and they could now sell their chemical drug cocktails to the public as a cure for these STD’s. As a result, people forgot that they could turn to a more inexpensive and probably much healthier solution that grows free in the wild.
As for me, I’m not scared of bogus FDA warning labels and am happy that we can now harvest our own sassafras right here on the homestead and even sell it if we want to. We actually have that much. It’s going for about $12 a pound on ebay right now. So I won’t get rich off the stuff. It took me 30 minutes to just dig up one small sapling. It was a tough tree. I read online that the trees actually propagate via their roots and so digging up the saplings actually encourages new growth from the roots.
One sapling yielded about 1.25 pounds worth of sassafras root. I found a recipe online for root beet (there are lots) and made root beer that afternoon. And darned if it didn’t taste just like the stuff in the store! I was amazed! Of course you need to get some sparkling water or carbonate water if you want the soda effect for your root beer, but drinking it like a tea was super tasty! We’ve also had it with homemade water kefir, which provides a natural fizziness.
Here is the recipe I followed:
When you make your root beer, start with a tablespoon of this syrup to a pint of seltzer water. You can adjust the strength of your drink from there.
Makes 2 quarts.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
6 cups of water
3 ounces of sassafras roots
1 ounce of burdock root
1/4 cup molasses
1 star anise
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 drops wintergreen extract or peppermint extract
6 cups sugar
- Chop the sassafras and burdock roots into small pieces, about 1/2 inch or smaller.
- Put the roots in a medium-sized heavy pot with the clove, star anise and coriander seeds and cover with the water. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer this for 15 minutes.
- Add the molasses and simmer another 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the wintergreen or peppermint extract. Put the cover back on the tea.
- When the mixture cools, strain it though cheesecloth to remove any debris.
- Return it to the pot with an equal amount of sugar. Stir to combine. Bring it to a simmer and cook it for 5 minutes, uncovered. Pour into quart mason jars and seal. Keeps a year in the fridge.
Recipe credit goes to: Honest-Food.net