Real Roots Root Beer!

I’m making a blog post about this because the Facebook post went viral. I’m guessing you guys are interested in making root beer!

I had a lot of sassafras saplings coming up into my raspberry patch, so I went in there with my shovel and dug a bunch of them out. Sassafras roots always break off when I do this, but I got enough chunks of them to come up that I wanted to save what I could, as I knew I would find a use for them somehow.

I remembered once I smelled the roots as I chopped them up with my shears: sassafras is the flavor of root beer!

Now, people always throw at me that sassafras roots are dangerous due to their safrole content, which can give mice and rats cancer if you feed a lot of it to them. I was even told someone’s grandma died after drinking sassafras root tea daily for years. My take: don’t ingest sassafras every day and you’ll be fine! Safrole causes liver damage in large quantities, but honestly one of the ingredients in this recipe is dandelion root… which supports liver function.

This recipe is for making a root beer syrup that will be mixed in small quantities with seltzer water. NO amount of soda, naturally-made o not, is good for you to consume on a daily basis! Soda should be an occasional treat, not a nightly habit. The amount of syrup I made with this recipe is enough to last a long time, and because it contains quite a bit of sugar, it will last in the refrigerator up to a year.

Roots, slightly peeled stems, herbs and spices in the pot with water to boil

I’m not going to lie: I pretty much used THIS RECIPE for root beer syrup; I just tweaked the amounts of roots and spices used. I tend to just throw everything into a pot and hope for the best, for the most part… I’m sure I had a larger amount of root and bark material than this recipe called for, so my syrup probably has a slightly higher safrole content than it’s meant to. However, I’m not drinking this stuff every day so I am really not worried about it!

You simmer the sassafras roots and stems, dandelion roots, star anise, clove, and coriander seeds for awhile until it looks well incorporated (like 25-30 minutes.) Then strain the solids out and put the liquid back into the pot. Add your sugar and molasses and simmer a bit longer (10 minutes or so), stirring to incorporate the sugars. Then you just let the syrup cool and ladle it into two quart-sized jars. The magic ingredient at the end: one drop in each jar of wintergreen extract. Thankfully, I made some last year and it’s not only delicious but is also a source of anti-inflammatory compounds.

This spiced syrup will keep a year in the fridge if covered well. If it lasts that long…

I also made a small batch of syrup using JUST the peeled stems (also water and sugar, duh) so I came out with a lighter syrup to try. For my taste, I found about 1/8th cup of syrup in the bottom of a 12 ounce glass is perfect for flavoring plain seltzer water. It’s absolutely delicious and worth every step of effort to make!

Have you ever tried making your own root beer? Will you now? Please keep an eye on my Class Schedule! I’ll be teaching a lot more classes this upcoming year, so also consider joining my Email List to keep updated!

Herbal Experimentation

While I have had some herbalist education, listen to educational podcasts, and look through my herbal healing books on a regular basis, I do not consider myself an expert. I am more knowledgeable than most, and I continue to learn something new about herbs and the way they work every day. Part of this learning process is experimentation.

Remember a few posts back about my herbal steam? That worked GREAT to help clear my stuffy nose, but whatever I had ended up moving into my chest after awhile. So I was coughing, or feeling the urge to cough (unproductively, I might add) for WEEKS. As in I just stopped coughing for the most part within the past few days. The best part is that of course, now my husband has it. Things like this trend to work their way through his system WAY faster than mine, so I’m not too worried.

Anyway, part of what I did over the past few weeks to help us get through this is to make an herbal cough syrup. Have you ever tried Wild Cherry Bark Cough Syrup? That stuff is awesome! It’s the reason old fashioned cough syrup didn’t taste that great… but it works like a dream. Anyway, I had harvested some wild cherry bark back in February of this year and thought I should try working with this wonderful herbal ally. Then I thought: Ooh! Rose hips would add vitamin C! And I harvested some elacampane root this year, that’s an excellent cough remedy… Oh, and I have some dried elderberries, let’s throw some of those in! It kind of kept going like that until I had thrown all together: elderberries, rose hips, wild cherry bark, red sumac berries, astragalus root, elacampane root, fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, some cloves, black peppercorns, licorice root, and a little white pine bark.

I know, I sound like a kitchen sink herbalist here. And sometimes I am! But I am getting better at realizing that certain herbs not only work well together, but also TASTE great together. So I simmered this concoction in water for a good half hour to an hour. After that, I strained the solids out through a cheese cloth, then returned the resulting liquid back to the pot and turned the burner on low. I was aiming to reduce the liquid a bit, to concentrate the constituents before adding my sweetener.

I have the patience of a gnat, so this didn’t last long. I kept the heat on low for about twenty minutes, and around the end I added about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of raw honey. I actually had some old sage-infused honey in the cupboard so I figured that would be an even better added boost, since sage is known for healing scratchy throats. I didn’t measure jack squat throughout this entire process, so I’m sorry I can’t give you an exact recipe here. The glass pot I use holds about a quart’s worth of water, if that helps. I wanted to keep the heat low so I wouldn’t kill any of the benefits from the raw honey.

Anyhoo, after the honey was well incorporated into the warm decoction, I poured it through the cheesecloth again for good measure and into a glass swing top bottle I had. After pouring it all in, I had a little room left near the top of the bottle. This was perfect, because I really wanted to add some brandy to the jar to help preserve the mixture, mainly because I hadn’t used nearly enough honey to turn it into a real “syrup.” I would guess I added about 1/3 cup of brandy, then I plugged the top with the swing top cork and gave the bottle a shake. I opened it once to burp it, just in case, then closed it up again and stuck it in the door of the refrigerator.

Finished syrup

We are now on our second bottle. I occasionally change up the recipe (am I out of rose hips? Add some orange peels instead… maybe throw some mullein leaves into the pot after the heat has been turned off) and we are going through it like crazy because it works FANTASTIC. The kids like it, we all love the flavor, and it helps stop the coughing for a good couple of hours. Instead of a small medicine cup, we just take about a half shot glass’ worth, maybe a bit more if the coughing is really bad. I gave some to my daughter to help her cough last week and she stopped coughing immediately. I wouldn’t worry about the brandy– it doesn’t really add more alcohol than a regular bottle of commercial medicine would have in it anyhow.

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