#HumbleBrag AKA Root Beer 1.3b

I haven’t been entirely clear if this whole bittered Root Beer has been a mistake. I like it, but I’ve been A little nervous about having “normal” people try it.

All the batches have been pretty darn bitter, and not everyone enjoys Gentian as much as I.

Happily, I have a Food and Beverage writer (Hi Lessley!) living next door, so after her husband loaned me a shirt for an event, I gave her a little of Root Beer Syrup 1.3a as a thank you gift when I returned the shirt.

I waited nervously for feedback…

Then yesterday I was standing at the bus stop across the street, when she ran out of her door and over to where I was standing.

“That Root Beer is amazing and I don’t even like soft drinks!”

I was like, yeah, that’s my whole impetus. I’ve been trying not to drink much alcohol this summer, but I can’t stand most commercial soft drinks, either.

“I want to buy it, it’s so good!”

Well, you can’t buy it, but the recipe is on the blog, and you can buy most of the ingredients at the Rainbow Grocery Coop.

Anyway, that interaction, among other things has been the highlight of my week, so I made up another batch.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3b (Bittersweet)

Roots:

2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
2 tsp Sassafras Root Bark*
2 tsp Wintergreen
1 tsp Licorice Root
1 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Gentian Root
1/2 tsp Roasted Dandelion Root
1 Star Anise

Herbs:

1/2 tsp Horehound
1 Generous Pinch Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

Sweetener:
1/4 Cup CA Wildflower Honey
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
1 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 4 parts soda water).

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. I’m amazed the rats lived that long, with that high a dose of anything, but use at your own risk. While no one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, I’d try to avoid shooting up with it anyway. I also wouldn’t give it to kids, but they probably wouldn’t like it, especially in this bitter concoction.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.5

Unfortunately, I liked Bitter Root Beer v1.3a less than I liked the original Moxie Root Beer v1.3. Damn, reminds me of my old “Hercules” experimentation days.

Thought I would return to the original proposition, but confront what happens when you leave Sassafras Root Bark out of the mix, since that’s what the FDA thinks I should do anyway. I’ve pumped up the Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen and also slightly widened the “kitchen spice” mix with Clove and Ceylon Cinnamon.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.5 (Sassafras Free)

Roots:

3 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
3 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Roasted Dandelion Root
1 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 Vanilla Bean, Split
1 Star Anise
4 Cloves, crushed
1/4 piece Ceylon Cinnamon, Crushed

Herbs:

1/2 tsp Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate
1/2 tsp Horehound

Sweetener:
1/4 Cup CA Wildflower Honey
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
1 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Cool, bottle in clean containers, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water.

Flannestad Root Beer 1.5.

Flannestad Root Beer 1.5.

It does end up more of a “spice” beer than a Root Beer, just doesn’t quite have the “bite” of a Sassafras based Root Beer. Heck, it would probably make a tasty Toddy…

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.

Bitter Root Beer

The previous Bitter Root Beer was my favorite “Root Beer” so far.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3 (Moxie)

I thought I would add back in the Dandelion Root and switch the Star Anise out for Anise Seed.

Flannestad Bitter Root Beer v1.3a

Roots:

2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
2 tsp Sassafras Root Bark*
2 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Gentian Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root, Honey Roasted
1/2 tsp Roasted Dandelion Root
1/2 tsp Anise Seed

Herbs:

1/2 tsp Horehound
1 Generous Pinch Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

Sweetener:
1/4 Cup CA Wildflower Honey
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
1 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 4 parts soda water).

Bitter Root Beer.

Bitter Root Beer.

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. I’m amazed the rats lived that long, with that high a dose of anything, but use at your own risk. Thus, while no one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, I’d try to avoid shooting up with it. I also wouldn’t give it to kids, but they probably wouldn’t like this bitter concoction in any case.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3 (Moxie)

Moxie

Moxie

Contains: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate (A Preservative), Gentian Root Extractives, Phosphoric Acid, Caffeine, and Citric Acid.

“1885-1899: Moxie Nerve Food invented and patented in 1885. First bottled carbonated beverage made in America. Many wild curative claims. Attempted distribution in Atlanta, Denver, & Chicago, but never really took off except in northeast. Also introduced in lozenge format, but that did not do well. Fantastic claim that basic secret ingredient (now known to be gentian root) was discovered by Thompson’s former comrade, a Lt. Moxie (he never existed) while traveling in the wilds of South America somewhere. Unique Moxie bottle wagons were used to dispense Moxie at fairs and amusement parks. Some ads incorporated then-popular “brownies” in them, others promoted a “health and vigor” theme (almost like today’s “energy drinks”).”

Not having tried Moxie before, it seemed like that should be on the list. Plus, my friend Louis, (of Miracle Mile Bitters fame,) egged me on a bit.

Moxie is kind of cool, not as bitter as I expected, but also a bit less sugar than most Root Beer. Most Root Beer clock in at 40 plus grams of sugar per 12oz (3.3g per ounce), Moxie is 25g per 8oz. (3.125g per ounce).

Re: flavor impact. Really medicinal smell. Put me off a bit. Tasting it, it’s a bit like a cross between cola and root beer. Some wintergreen elements to the flavor, but then also the bitter/sour of cola with a distinct bitterness that lingers in the aftertaste.

My previous Root Beers were already a bit bitter with the Spikenard and Dandelion, but I’ll pump that up a bit by replacing the Dandelion with Gentian. I’m also going to swap in Honey for the Maple and leave out the Vanilla.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3 (Moxie)

Roots:

2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
2 tsp Sassafras Root Bark*
2 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Gentian Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root, Honey Roasted
1 Star Anise

Herbs:

1/2 tsp Horehound
1/2 tsp Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

Sweetener:
1/4 Cup CA Wildflower Honey
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
1 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses and Washed Raw Sugar, cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water.

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3 (Moxie)

Flannestad Root Beer v1.3 (Moxie)

 

Oh my, now that is a tongue twister. The gentian substitution makes this quite a bit more bitter than either of my previous Root Beers or Moxie. We’re heading into non-alcoholic Amaro Territory, exactly where I was hoping to go. Tasty.

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. Use at your own risk. No one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, but try to avoid shooting up with it anywa
Might have to get the smoker out, after all.

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. I’m amazed the rats lived that long, with that high a dose of anything, but use at your own risk. Thus, while no one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, I’d try to avoid shooting up with it. I also wouldn’t give it to kids, but they probably wouldn’t like this complex concoction in any case.

Wintergreen

I’ve already taken a look at three of the ingredients most frequently included in Root Beer, Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, and Birch Bark, a fourth essential ingredient is Wintergreen.

Wintergreen originally came from a small perennial herb native to the North Eastern portions of the United States. According the the Canadian Forestry Association quoted below, it was the original source of the active ingredient in Aspirin. People’s in North America, prior to the arrival of Europeans, brewed a tea from it and used it to treat a variety of symptoms, from respiratory infections to headaches. When tea became scarce during the North American Colonists’ rebellion against England, they adopted the practices of the Native Americans and brewed an infusion from it. With it’s delicious flavor and variety of therapeutic uses, Wintergreen eventually found its way into the originally medicinal elixirs which we now call Sarsaparilla and Root Beer.

As noted below, Wintergreen Oil and Sweet Birch Oil are essentially identical chemically, so if you’re using one, you probably don’t need to use the other in your Root Beer, especially since it seems to be pretty impossible to find sweet birch bark available commercially. If you’ve got a Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) in your backyard, give making it from scratch a try and let me know how it works out.

Sweet Birch

Wintergreen entry from Your Local Wildwood Pharmacy, Canadian Forestry Association website.

“It is as a medicinal herb that wintergreen is best known. Oil of wintergreen, distilled from the leaves, is composed primarily of methyl salicylate, a poison if used in large quantities. Minute amounts of this oil are used in flavouring toothpaste and other dental products, candy and lozenges. Aspirin, the most widely used drug after tobacco and caffeine, was originality extracted from wintergreen. When the poison (methyl) is removed from the oil, the crystalline material left behind is acetylsalicylic acid, the effective ingredient in aspirin.

“As well as oil, the leaves of wintergreen contain a compound called arbutin. This material is more stable when it is heated than when it is cold, meaning that it retains its medicinal qualities when heated or rubbed into muscles for treating various aches and pains including rheumatism. A few drops of wintergreen oil on a soft cloth and placed on the brow is a common time-proven cure for headaches. As well, the stems of the plant are chewed by people around the world to prevent tooth decay.”

Wintergreen entry from A Modern Herbal, by M. Greive, circa 1900.

“Botanical: Gaultheria procumbens (LINN.)

“—Synonyms—Teaberry. Boxberry. Mountain Tea. Checkerberry. Thé du Canada. Aromatic Wintergreen. Partridge Berry. Deerberry.
“—Part Used—Leaves.
“—Habitat—Northern United States from Georgia to Newfoundland; Canada.

“—Description—A small indigenous shrubby, creeping, evergreen plant, growing about 5 to 6 inches high under trees and shrubs, particularly under evergreens such as Kalmias and Rhododendrons. It is found in large patches on sandy and barren plains, also on mountainous tracts. The stiff branches bear at their summit tufts of leaves which are petiolate, oval, shiny, coriaceous, the upper side bright green, paler underneath. The drooping white flowers are produced singly from the base of the leaves in June and July, followed by fleshy, bright red berries (with a sweetish taste and peculiar flavour), formed by the enlargement of the calyx. The leaves were formerly official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, but now only the oil obtained from them is official, though in some parts the whole plant is used. The odour is peculiar and aromatic, and the taste of the whole plant astringent, the leaves being particularly so.

“—Constituents—The volatile oil obtained by distillation and to which all the medicinal qualities are due, contains 99 per cent Methyl Salicylate: other properties are 0.3 of a hydrocarbon, Gaultherilene, and an aldehyde or ketone, a secondary alcohol and an ester. To the alcohol and ester are due the characteristic odour of the oil. The oil does not occur crudely in the plant, but as a nonodorous glucoside, and before distillation, the leaves have to be steeped for twelve to twenty-four hours for the oil to develop by fermentation – a reaction between water and a neutral principle: Gaultherin.

“—Medicinal Action and Uses—
Tonic, stimulant, astringent, aromatic. Useful as a diuretic and emmenagogue and for chronic mucous discharges. Is said to be a good galactogogue. The oil of Gaultheria is its most important product. It has all the properties of the salicylates and therefore is most beneficial in acute rheumatism, but must be given internally in capsules, owing to its pungency, death from inflammation of the stomach having been known to result from frequent and large doses of it. It is readily absorbed by the skin, but is liable to give rise to an eruption, so it is advisable to use for external application the synthetic oil of Wintergreen, Methyl Salicylate, or oil from the bark of Betula lenta, which is almost identical with oil of Gaultheria. In this form, it is a very valuable external application for rheumatic affections in all chronic forms of joint and muscular troubles, lumbago, sciatica, etc. The leaves have found use as a substitute for tea and as a flavouring for genuine tea. The berries form a winter food for animals, partridges, deer, etc. They have been used, steeped in brandy, to produce a bitter tonic taken in small quantities. The oil is a flavouring agent for tooth powders, liquid dentifrices, pastes, etc., especially if combined with menthol and eucalyptus.”

Sassafras

The most controversial aspect of brewing your own Root Beer is whether to use natural Sassafras Root Bark.

As I mentioned, some time in the 1960s or 1970s, it was determined that there is a link between a substance in Sassafras, Safrole, and Liver Cancer in rats.

Shortly thereafter, Sassafras was removed from the GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list by the FDA and banned from use in food.

A lot of people play this down, Sassafras Root Bark tea is still pretty commonly drunk as an herbal beverage in the parts of the United States.

You’ll find quotes like this one from Wildman Steve Brill’s website:

“Note: You may have heard that sassafras has been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it causes cancer. Huge quantities have given to rats over took periods of time give the rodents cancer because they change the molecule sassafrole into a cancer-causing one. Humans don’t do this, and no one has ever gotten sick from sassafras. Sassafras was banned because there are a lot of rats in the FDA!”

On one hand, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, there has been no strong correlation discovered between liver cancer in humans and the moderate consumption of Sassafras Tea or Root Beer.

On the other hand, you may feel it is better to be safe than sorry. You only have one liver, after all.

There are Sassafras Root extracts available, and Root Beer Flavorings, which use Safrole free Sassafras Extract.

Other Root Beers, presumably, forgo Sassafras altogether and just pump up the other ingredients, generally the Wintergreen.

Interestingly, Sassafras Oil and Safrole are used in the illicit manufacture of MDMA, making Safrole a list I chemical under federal law.

I’ve also seen recent studies which point out that excessive Sassafras use may cause sweating and/or hot flashes. Amusing, since one of the traditional common names is “ague tree”, and it was taken to cause those exact effects.

I’m not a scientist or your Doctor, so I can’t pretend to tell you what to do, but it’s good to be informed and make your own choice.

Sassafras entry from “A Modern Herbal”, M. Greive, circa 1900:

—Description—The name ‘Sassafras,’ applied by the Spanish botanist Monardes in the sixteenth century, is said to be a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage. The tree stands from 20 to 40 feet high, with many slender branches, and smooth, orangebrown bark. The leaves are broadly oval, alternate, and 3 to 7 inches long. The flowers are small, and of an inconspicuous, greenishyellow colour. The roots are large and woody, their bark being soft and spongy, rough, and reddish or greyish-brown in colour. The living bark is nearly white, but exposure causes its immediate discoloration. The roots are imported in large, branched pieces, which may or may not be covered with bark, and often have attached to them a portion of the lower part of the trunk. The central market for all parts is Baltimore. The entire root is official in the British Pharmacopoeia, but only the more active bark in the United States, where wood and bark form separate articles of commerce. The bark without its corky layer is brittle, and the presence of small crystals cause its inner surface to glisten. Both bark and wood have a fragrant odour, and an aromatic, somewhat astringent taste.

“The tree, which has berries like those of cinnamon, appears to have been cultivated in England some centuries ago, for in 1633 Johnston wrote: ‘I have given the figure of a branch taken from a little sassafras tree which grew in the garden of Mr. Wilmot at Bon.’ Probably it was discovered by the Spaniards in Florida, for seventy years earlier there is mention of the reputation of its roots in Spain as a cure for syphilis, rheumatism, etc., though its efficacy has since then been much disputed.

“The fragrant oil distilled from the rootbark is extensively used in the manufacture of the coarser kinds of perfume, and for scenting the cheapest grades of soap. The oil used in perfumes is also extracted from the fruits. The wood and bark of the tree furnish a yellow dye. In Louisiana, the leaves are used as a condiment in sauces, and also for thickening soups; while the young shoots are used in Virginia for making a kind of beer. Mixed with milk and sugar, Sassafras Tea, under the name of ‘Saloop,’ could, until a few years ago, be bought at London streetcorners in the early mornings.

“Oil of Sassafras is chiefly used for flavouring purposes, particularly to conceal the flavour of opium when given to children. In the United States of America it is employed for flavouring effervescing drinks.

—Medicinal Action and Uses—Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative. It is rarely given alone, but is often combined with guaiacum or sarsaparilla in chronic rheumatism, syphilis, and skin diseases.”

Some more modern information regardingSassafras from the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

“Scientific Name: Sassafras albidum

“Common Name: Ague tree, saxifrax, cinnamonwood, saloop, smelling-stick

“Clinical Summary:
Derived primarily from the roots of the tree. There are no clinical data to support the use of sassafras, which contains safrole, a volatile oil that was shown to be carcinogenic in animal models. Diaphoresis, hot flashes, and sedation have been reported following administration of small doses.
Excessive doses can cause hallucinations, hypertension, and tachycardia.

“Food Sources:
Once used as flavoring agent in root beer and candies. Its use as food additive is now prohibited by the FDA due to its carcinogenic effect.”

Sassafras is Not Nearly as Dangerous as You Would Think, rriterson, 2010

“First, let me state that I believe i am qualified to offer an opinion because I am a practicing biochemist and can more easily find and perhaps understand the data out there. However, I am not an expert on safrole or safrole metabolism, so do not take my word as gospel. I encourage you to look at the data and decide for yourself.

“I think the safrole health hazards have been significantly overblown. Take a look at these two sources (one a secondary source, the other primary):

http://potency.berkeley.edu/chempages/SAFROLE.html

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6P-3X9415Y-3&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view =c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_user id=10&md5=8ec1ea8630ab130def74241535d2fc11#sec2.1

“Let’s not go too far and say that safrole doesn’t cause cancer. It does at the right dose But I think that dose is waaaay higher than you’re likely to get. Pollution in the air, chemicals in your kitchen cleaning products, etc, will probably give you cancer first.

“So, I am not at all afraid to use raw sassafras in my root beers, and I don’t think you should be either.

“What do I think the real reason for why the FDA was so quick to act against Safrole? It’s one easy chemical reaction away from MDMA, the banned drug most of us know as ecstasy. By eliminating the food needs for sassafras, the industrial production sources all disappeared, making it very hard for an illegal drug house to get enough sassafras to make MDMA.

“I’m interested to hear other opinions out there, and especially interested in reading any other sources people can find.”

Flannestad Root Beer v1.2

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 19

Not entirely pleased with the last batch of Root Beer Syrup, have made some adjustments.

image

Flannestad Root Beer v1.2

Roots:

2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
2 tsp Sassafras Root Bark*
2 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Dandelion Root, Roasted
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root, Honey Roasted
1/2 Vanilla Bean, Split

Herbs:

1/2 tsp Horehound
1/2 tsp Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

Sweetener:
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup (Grade B)
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
1 TBSP Blackstrap Molasses

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses and Washed Raw Sugar, cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water.

image

This is much closer to what I imagine as Root Beer, the overwhelming Molasses replaced with the mellower sweetening of Maple Syrup. Still, more bitter and much more herbal than modern commercial Root Beer.

Might have to get the smoker out, after all.

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. I’m amazed the rats lived that long, with that high a dose of anything, but use at your own risk. Thus, while no one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, I’d try to avoid shooting up with it. I also wouldn’t give it to kids, but they probably wouldn’t like this complex concoction in any case.

Home Fermented Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 18

I recently experimented with home brewed Root Beer, Flannestad Root Beer, but I didn’t quite follow it to its logical extension.

For some reason, while I’ve done a lot of infusions, I’ve never tried fermenting anything (except bread) at home. I’ve never even made home fermented ginger beer.

However, when Charles Hires first created his Root Beer Dry Mix and Syrup in the late 1800s, he expected people to be able to ferment it at home.

I reproduce his instructions here from a booklet circa 1892:

Recipe and Directions for Making Root Beer

Take Contents of Bottle. 4 Pounds of Sugar (granulated is preferable).
5 Gallons of Fresh Water (preferably luke-warm).
Half-Pint of fresh yeast, or half cake of fresh compressed yeast.
When making in cool weather, double the quantity of yeast is used.

The Way to Do It:

Dissolve the sugar thoroughly in the water, then add the Root Beer Extract and the yeast. (If cake yeast be used, it should first be dissolved in a little cold water, then it will mix more readily with the Beer.) Stir until thoroughly mixed, and bottle in strong bottles or jugs at once, corking and tying the corks securely. Then be sure and set in a warm place for several hours, so that it can become effervescent. (If set in a cool place when first made the yeast becomes chilled and cannot work.) It will be ready to drink after being bottled in ten or twelve hours, but will open more effervescingly if allowed to stand for three or four days. After the Beer has become effervescent, it should then be set in a cool place of even temperature. Before opening the bottle place it on ice, or in a cold place, for a short time, when it will be sparkling and delicious.

To make the Beer more cheaply, molasses or common sugar may be used to sweeten it.

A very pleasant drink may be made for immediate use by adding two teasponfuls of the Extract to a quart of water, sweetening it with granulated sugar to suit the taste, then beat half the white of an egg, and mix together.

NOTE. –Occasionally parties write us that they have tried to make the Root Beer, and while it is very good, it does not evervesce, or pop, when it is opened.

Now, when a case of this kind happens, we know that there is something wrong in the making of it. Either the yeast was not good, or else the Beer, when made, was placed in the cellar, or in a cool place, where it became chilled and could not ferment.

A woman in making bread is always very careful that the dough does not become chilled, so sets it in a warm place to insure its rising and becoming light. So it is with our Root Beer, warmth is essential to life. If this simple fact is borne in mind no one will ever fail in making our Root Beer to have it delicious and Sparkling.

When we say “fresh compressed yeast,” we mean the small square cake yeast that is sold fresh every day in most of the prominent towns of the United States at two cents a cake. When only the dry cake yeast can be had, a whole cake should be used. In fact, our experience has been that very little of the dry cake yeast sold is good for anything; we therefore prefer to use good fresh baker’s yeast, or fresh compressed yeast.

If these simple hints are carefully borne in mine the Root Beer is very little trouble to make successfully.

When we say “yeast” we do not mean Baking Powder.

The Charles E. Hires Co.,
Sole Manufacturers,
Philadelphia, PA

Well, right, then. If late 19th Century home makers can do that, so can I.

I decided to try and turn my sweetened Root Beer syrup into a sparkling beverage.

I proofed a teaspoon of active dry yeast with warm water and a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a clean quart plastic soft drink bottle. When the yeast was active, I added about a cup of my Flannestad Root Beer Syrup, then filled with lukewarm water. I let this sit in a warm cool place overnight. Then in the morning, I placed it in the fridge to chill.

I may have used too much yeast.

Mrs. Flannestad was surprised how much the beverage reminded her of real Beer. I was pleased that the yeasts had consumed some of the sugars, leaving it a slightly dryer beverage.

Flannestad Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 16

Starting from this Root Beer recipe, which is claimed to date from the mid-1800s or earlier:

“Gather a quantity of hops and roots of burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla,
dandelion, and spikenard. Dry them thoroughly, then chip ½ ounce of each.
Pour over this mixture a gallon of water and boil it hard for twenty minute
and strain while hot, then add ten drops each of the oils of spruce and
sassafras well mixed. When lukewarm, stir in two-thirds pint of molasses
and 3 tablespoons of jug yeast. Mix well. Let stand in a stone
crock, covered with a cloth, in a warm place for two hours. Bottle. Cork
bottles well and store on a cold cellar floor.”

And Charles Hires’ Ingredients:

Birch Bark – United States, New England
Chirreta – India
Dog Grass – Germany
Ginger – Africa
Ginger – China
Ginger – Jamaica
Hires special plant
Hops – United States, Northwest
Juniper Berries – Italy
Licorice – Spain
Licorice – Russia
Sarsaparilla – Honduras
Sugar – Cuba
Vanilla – Mexico
Wintergreen – United States, North Carolina
Yerba Mate – Brazil

Root Beer Ingredients

Root Beer Ingredients

Flannestad Root Beer Syrup, v.1

INGREDIENTS:

Roots:

1 tsp Sarsaparilla Root, Jamaican
1 tsp Sassafras Root Bark*
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, Dry
1/2 tsp Ginger Root, sliced fresh
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Dandelion Root, Roasted
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Licorice Root, Honey Roasted
1/3 Vanilla Bean, Split

Herbs:

1 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp Horehound
1/2 tsp Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

1/2 Cup Molasses
1 1/2 Cup Washed Raw Sugar

Root Beer Brewing.

Root Beer Brewing.


METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses and Washed Raw Sugar, cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water.

Root Beer.

Root Beer.

My initial thought is that the Molasses flavor is too strong, kind of overwhelms everything else in the mix. Definitely more bitter than any commercial Root Beer I’ve ever tried, and more herbal. A good place to start, but I don’t think anyone trying it would recognize it as Root Beer. For v2.0, I think I need to double the Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, and Wintergreen. Also, a little too sweet.

Might have to get the smoker out, after all.

*Blah, blah, Sassafras is not FDA GRAS, as it causes liver cancer in rats after they’ve been given high doses of pure sassafras oil intravenously for about a year. I’m amazed the rats lived that long, with that high a dose of anything, but use at your own risk. Thus, while no one has ever correlated Sassafras, Gumbo File, or Root Beer with Liver cancer in humans, I’d try to avoid shooting up with it. I also wouldn’t give it to kids, but they probably wouldn’t like this complex concoction in any case.