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!

Cleavers is Galium, but not all Galium is Cleavers

That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!

I was wrong.

THIS is actual “Cleavers,” Galium Aparine

After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.

Galium Mollugo I have been seeing
This is the galium I’ve seen at my farm. Note the NON-Hairy stem

Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.

Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.

I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…

At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!

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