Some Darn Fine Sassafras Root Beer

I have Sassafras trees! Everywhere! I feel so rich and so blessed. I dug a sapling root on Sunday to make root beer and dried some leaves for tea. I have to say I’d be quite content to just go around smelling them all day every day… ahhhhhh, there’s nothing so lovely as Sassafras.

Sassafras Tree photo here

So once I smelled them, I had to also taste. The leaves are sweet and mild and extremely mucilaginous. I hear they are often used to thicken soups and stews and gumbo, and I can see that they would be very good for that purpose. I dried all the leaves from the sapling I dug up, and I plan to make some leaf tea soon. I hear it is almost as good as the root tea.

But the root… now that is something straight from heaven. Smells and tastes strongly of root beer — as you may know, it IS the original genuine flavor for that lovely beverage. I used it to make some tea and two versions of root beer.

Now, I didn’t quite know exactly what I was doing, but just followed my instincts and some vague recollections of stuff I had read in the past.

First, I washed off the root thoroughly. Then I used a knife to peel off the outer bark. From what I have read, the inner side of the outer bark is the part with the good stuff in it. The peelings went into the pan; the stick remaining I gave back to Mother Earth. I ended up with about an ounce of bark, which I covered with water to fill a 2 quart pan.

Peeled Sassafras Root photo here

I then boiled it until the water evaporated to about 1/2 of what I started with. The water turned a lovely red color and the whole house smelled sweet like Sassafras. We tried some of the resulting decoction plain right out of the pan and it made a very good tea all by itself. Since I wanted to make root beer, though, I added some sugar (not sure how much, just till it tasted sweet enough).

Boiling Sassafras Root photo here

For the first version of the root beer, I filled a glass half way with the sweetened Sassafras decoction and then the other half with sparkling water. Abracadabra! Instant root beer. My grandson loved it and hubby and I thought it was really good, too.

For the second version I put the rest of the decoction into a pyrex glass 4 C measuring cup and added some yeast while it was still warm (about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon), stirred it, covered it, and set it on the shelf to ferment. I just used regular bread yeast ’cause that’s what I had on hand. I let it sit for about 24 hours. When I got home the next day I pulled out my home brew and dipped a wooden spoonful out to taste.

Oh, my! Gotta have me some more of that! The fermenting really brought out the strong root beer flavor and added a fizzy kick. It is one of the most delicious things I think I’ve ever tasted. The sparkling water version can’t even come close. There are probably more sophisticated ways to make this, which I’ll be wanting to learn about now, but I think it’s not too bad for my first try.

To store it, I poured it into a recycled (sterilized) olive oil bottle that has a rubber stopper on it, and put it in the fridge to stop the fermenting.

Bottled Sassafras Root Beer photo here

**UPDATE 5/26:  Check out Kiva Rose’s recent post on an easy way to make lacto-fermented herbal brews.  Her method uses whey instead of yeast.  Fermented herbal infusions could easily replace soda in any household.  I’m excited to try it!

While I was out getting the Sassafras Sunday, I also found and harvested some wild grape leaves, which I promptly cooked and served with dinner, as well as bunches of violet leaf and sweet clover. The herb gardens are prolific and overgrown already, so I also cut some rosemary and sage. While my root beer boiled and brewed, I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging herbs to dry and making rosemary and sage smudge sticks. Oh what a glorious day it was!

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