Optional Root Beer Ingredients

I’ve already covered the properties of the most critical elements of Root Beer: Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, Wintergreen, and Birch Bark.

What about the other ingredients in Charles Hires’ Root Beer Recipe?

Chirreta – India

Chiretta (Swertia chirata) appears to be a Gentian-like plant which is, “used a great deal in India as it has two valuable bitter tonic principles,” for Ayurvedic medicine.

“The true Chiretta has a yellowish pith, is extremely bitter and has no smell, an overdose causes sickness and a sense of oppression in the stomach. It acts well on the liver, promoting secretion of bile, cures constipation and is useful for dyspepsia. It restores tone after illness.”

Dog Grass – Germany

Dog-Grass may be Couch-Grass, (Agropyrum repens), whose, “roots have a sweet taste, somewhat resembling liquorice,” and were used medicinally.

“Diuretic demulcent. Much used in cystitis and thetreatment of catarrhal diseases of the bladder. It palliates irritation of the urinary passages and gives relief in cases of gravel.

“It is also recommended in gout and rheumatism. It is supposed to owe its diuretic effect to its sugar, and is best given in the form of an infusion, made from 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water, which may be freely used taken in wineglassful doses. A decoction is also made by putting 2 to 4 oz. in a quart of water and reducing down to a pint by boiling. Of the liquid extract 1/2 to 2 teaspoonsful are given in water.

“Couch-grass is official in the Indian and Colonial Addendum of the British Pharmacopoeia for use in the Australasian, Eastern and North American Colonies, where it is much employed.”

Ginger – Africa

There are a few species of ginger which grow in Africa, but the most likely one is “African Pepper” (Aframomum melegueta) aka “Grains of Paradise”.

“Humans aren’t the only ones who rely on Aframomum. Both Eastern and Western Lowland gorillas love this plant in the wild. In fact, it is the most common plant they eat. Aframommum appears to have important health benefits for gorillas, particularly for their cardiovascular health. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory substances called gingerols, and it has antibiotic properties. Native African healers have used this plant for centuries to treat infections. Aframomum is important to daily life in West Africa, where the seeds are consumed socially for good health.”

Ginger – China

“Ginger is one of the oldest medicinal foods.

“Since the herb originated in Southeast Asia, it’s not surprising that ancient Chinese and Indian healers have made ginger a part of their toolkit for thousands of years.

“Ayurvedic texts credit ginger as a ‘universal great medicine’. An old Indian proverb says that ‘everything good is found in ginger.’ Traditional Chinese medicine holds that ginger ‘restores devastated yang’ and ‘expels cold’.”

Ginger – Jamaica

The Jamaican ginger is known to be of premium quality on the world market today. Although this popular plant is native to Asia, the Jamaican Ginger is by far more pungent and aromatic than the others cultivated in other countries. The ginger is as old as history and is mentioned in ancient Chinese, Indian and middle writings including the Quran.

Hops – United States, Northwest

“Hops have tonic, nervine, diuretic and anodyne properties. Their volatile oil produces sedative and soporific effects, and the Lupamaric acid or bitter principle is stomachic and tonic. For this reason Hops improve the appetite and promote sleep.

“The official preparations are an infusion and a tincture. The infusion is employed as a vehicle, especially for bitters and tonics: the tincture is stomachic and is used to improve the appetite and digestion. Both preparations have been considered to be sedative, were formerly much given in nervousness and hysteria and at bedtime to induce sleep; in cases of nervousness, delirium and inflammation being considered to produce a most soothing effect, frequently procuring for the patient sleep after long periods of sleeplessness in overwrought conditions of the brain.”

Juniper Berries – Italy

“The chief use of Juniper is as an adjuvant to diuretics in dropsy depending on heart, liver or kidney disease. It imparts a violet odour to the urine, and large doses may cause irritation to the passages. An infusion of 1 oz. to 1 pint of boiling water may be taken in the course of twenty-four hours.

“In France the berries have been used in chest complaints and in leucorrhoea, blenorrhoea, scrofula, etc.”

Licorice – Spain
Licorice – Russia

“Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used in food and as medicine for thousands of years. Also known as “sweet root,” licorice root contains a compound that is about 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice root has been used in both Eastern and Western medicine to treat a variety of illnesses, ranging from the common cold to liver disease. It acts as a demulcent, a soothing, coating agent, and as an expectorant, meaning it helps get rid of phlegm. It is still used today for several conditions, although not all its uses are supported by scientific evidence.”

Vanilla – Mexico

“Europeans, and later, Americans, considered vanilla a stimulant but, paradoxically, also a treatment for hysteria and nervousness. Dr. John King wrote in the American Dispensatory in 1859 that vanilla was an aromatic stimulant useful in infusion for treating hysteria, rheumatism, and low forms of fever. ‘It is said to exhilarate the brain, prevent sleep, increase muscular energy and stimulate the sexual propensities.'”

“Vanilla was also used extensively to flavor tinctures and syrups and to perfume medicinal ointments, a practice that continues today. (Vanilla is one of three flavors most used in medications and syrups, and it is also used as a neutralizer in noxious smelling medicines.) A sweet tincture was made to treat stomach disorders, and this medicinal value was listed in the American Pharmacopoeia until 1916.”

Yerba Mate – Brazil

“The indigenous people have used it for centuries as a social and medicinal beverage. Yerba Mate has been shown to be hypocholesterolemic, hepatoprotective, central nervous system stimulant, diuretic, and to benefit the cardiovascular system. It has also been suggested for obesity management. Yerba Mate protects DNA from oxidation and in vitro low-density lipoprotein lipoperoxidation and has a high antioxidant capacity. It has also been reported that Yerba Mate tea is associated to both the prevention and the cause of some types of cancers.”

American Spikenard (Aralia Racemosa)

“Used for pulmonary diseases, digestive weakness, gynecological problems, blood purification, hay fever, diarrhea, colds, bronchitis, sore throat, fever, venereal disease, rheumatic aches and pains, asthma, coughs. Externally, used for skin diseases and hemorrhoids. Taking the tea for some time before labor is said to make childbirth easier and shortens the labor. Native Americans used the root for wounds, boils, acne, pimples, blackheads, rashes, swellings, bruises, inflammations, and chest pains. For the external use, the root was pounded and made into a poultice or dressing. Flavoring for liqueurs and cordials.”

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum Officianale)

“The roasted roots are largely used to form Dandelion Coffee, being first thoroughly cleaned, then dried by artificial heat, and slightly roasted till they are the tint of coffee, when they are ground ready for use. The roots are taken up in the autumn, being then most fitted for this purpose. The prepared powder is said to be almost indistinguishable from real coffee, and is claimed to be an improvement to inferior coffee, which is often an adulterated product. Of late years, Dandelion Coffee has come more into use in this country, being obtainable at most vegetarian restaurants and stores. Formerly it used occasionally to be given for medicinal purposes, generally mixed with true coffee to give it a better flavour. The ground root was sometimes mixed with chocolate for a similar purpose. Dandelion Coffee is a natural beverage without any of the injurious effects that ordinary tea and coffee have on the nerves and digestive organs. It exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition, so that it offers great advantages to dyspeptics and does not cause wakefulness.”

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

Well, actually, I’m the only one who puts Horehound in Root Beer, just because I like its flavor.

“White Horehound has long been noted for its efficacy in lung troubles and coughs. Gerard says of this plant: ‘Syrup made of the greene fresh leaves and sugar is a most singular remedie against the cough and wheezing of the lungs . . . and doth wonderfully and above credit ease such as have been long sicke of any consumption of the lungs, as hath beene often proved by the learned physitions of our London College.’

“And Culpepper says: ‘It helpeth to expectorate tough phlegm from the chest, being taken with the roots of Irris or Orris…. There is a syrup made of this plant which I would recommend as an excellent help to evacuate tough phlegm and cold rheum from the lungs of aged persons, especially those who are asthmatic and short winded.’

“Preparations of Horehound are still largely used as expectorants and tonics. It may, indeed, be considered one of the most popular pectoral remedies, being given with benefit for chronic cough, asthma, and some cases of consumption.

“Horehound is sometimes combined with Hyssop, Rue, Liquorice root and Marshmallow root, 1/2 oz. of each boiled in 2 pints of water, to 1 1/2 pint, strained and given in 1/2 teacupful doses, every two to three hours.

“For children’s coughs and croup, it is given to advantage in the form of syrup, and is a most useful medicine for children, not only for the complaints mentioned, but as a tonic and a corrective of the stomach. It has quite a pleasant taste.”

Sugar – Cuba

Well, as they say, a spoonful of sugar helps all that medicine go down.

4 thoughts on “Optional Root Beer Ingredients

  1. Hi Erik, this is super helpful information (as always). Somewhat related and unrelated, I have been looking for many of these ingredients in the city. Where do you usually buy them in San Francisco? I am particularly pressed in finding cinchona and gentian.

    • Hi Noelle! In the area, Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley is the best. In San Francisco proper, a combination of Scarlet Sage on Valencia and Rainbow Grocery is necessary. Scarlet sage has a slightly better medicinal herb selection, but the product always seems fresher at Rainbow. You’ll definitely find both Gentian and Cinchona at Scarlet Sage. Rainbow didn’t have Cinchona the last time I looked.

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