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.
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.
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…
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.”
“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.”
“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’.”
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 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.”
“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 (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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
I already took a look at two of the ingredients most frequently included in Root Beer, Sassafras and Birch Bark, a third essential ingredient is Sarsaparilla.
“—An Alterative Mixture—
1 lb. Rio Negro Sarsaparilla root, or in place of it Stillingia Sylvatica; 6 OZ. rasped guaiac wood; aniseed and liquorice root bruised 2 OZ. of each; 1 lb. molasses; 1 OZ. Mezereon root-bark and 6 Cloves. Put all these into 2 gallons of boiling water and shake vessel well. When fermentation starts, take 4 fluid ounces three times daily.”
Hm, that sounds an awful lot like Root Beer right there!
But it turns out the reason people were drinking this preparation of Sarsaparilla was that it was among the most popular treatments of Venereal disease in the 1400s through to the 1600s, especially in Europe and among the Spanish settlers of the New World..
Even though time and clinical practice had showed Sarsaparilla to be largely ineffective, it is claimed it still had enough popular currency by the 17-1800s that patrons would drink Sarsaparilla tea after visiting houses of ill repute, in hopes of staving off Veneral disease. Sort of gives a different perspective on the cowboy ordering a Sarsaparilla, eh?
According to some, the Soft Drink called, “‘Sarsaparilla’ apparently made its debut as a patent medicine, an easy-to-take form of sassafras, much as Coca-Cola was first marketed in 1885 as a remedy for hangovers and headaches.”
But, uh, both Sarsaparilla and Sassafras were used to treat Syphilis? Birch Bark and Wintergreen both had Analgesic properties? I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here regarding the medicinal needs among the early Americans.
Finally, in modern Jamaica, it is often a part of various Root Tonics and thought to increase sexual potency and stamina in both women and men.
Sarsaparilla transcription from M. Grieve’s Modern Herbal, circa 1900.
“—Synonyms—Smilax Medica. Red-bearded Sarsaparilla.
“—Habitat—Central America, principally Costa Rica.
“—Description—This plant derived its name from being exported to Europe through Jamaica. The word Sarsaparilla comes from the Spanish Sarza, meaning a bramble, and parilla, a vine, in allusion to the thorny stems of the plant. This is a non-mealy Sarsaparilla. It is a large perennial climber, rhizome underground, large, short, knotted, with thickened nodes and roots spreading up to 6 or 8 feet long. Stems erect, semiwoody, with very sharp prickles 1/2 inch long. Leaves large, alternate stalked, almost evergreen with prominent veins, seven nerved mid-rib very strongly marked. Flowers and fruit not known. Cortex thick and brownish, with an orange red tint; when chewed it tinges the saliva, and gives a slightly bitter and mucilaginous taste, followed by a very acrid one; it contains a small proportion of starch, also a glucoside, sarsaponin, sarsapic acid, and fatty acids, palmitic, stearic, behenic, oleic and linolic.
“Jamaica Sarsaparilla was introduced in the middle of the sixteenth century as a remedy for syphilis, and later came to be used for other chronic diseases, specially rheumatism. It is a mild gastric irritant due to its saponin content. The smoke of Sarsaparilla was recommended for asthma. It is also very useful as a tonic, alterative, diaphoretic and diuretic. Its active principle is a crystalline body, Parillin or Smilacin.”
“Particularly indicated for inveterate syphilis, pseudo-syphilis, mescurio-syphilis and struma in all its forms. Also valuable in gonorrhoeal neuralgia and other depraved conditions of the system as well as for other diseases treated by other varieties.”
“Sarsaparilla is still around, but it takes a little poking to turn it up. The drink, which tastes a great deal like root beer, is still popular in some parts of the U.S. — the folks in Pittsburgh, I understand, are crazy about the stuff. Although none of the major soft-drink manufacturers markets a national brand, all continue to make the flavor base available to any local bottler who cares to market sarsaparilla on his own. Many cities have a specialty store or two that carries these brands; ask around.
“You might think that sarsaparilla would be made from extract of the sarsaparilla plant, a tropical vine distantly related to the lily, but you’d be wrong. It was originally made (artificial flavors have taken over now, of course) from a blend of birch oil and sassafras, the dried root bark of the sassafras tree. Sassafras was widely used as a home remedy in the nineteenth century — taken in sufficient doses, it induces sweating, which some people thought was a good thing. Sarsaparilla apparently made its debut as a patent medicine, an easy-to-take form of sassafras, much as Coca-Cola was first marketed in 1885 as a remedy for hangovers and headaches.
“Why isn’t sarsaparilla popular anymore? Basically, it just lost out to cola, like almost every other flavor you could name. Root beer, sarsaparilla’s closest cousin and once America’s most popular soft drink, now accounts for less than 4 percent of the national market. Sarsaparilla’s share is too small to be measured.
“The sarsaparilla plant is used in Jamaica for a number of its believed benefits. It is most popularly used today as a base for tonic drinks that are believed to not only serve as an aphrodisiac but also as a way to increase sexual stamina and libido. The plant is also believed to beneficial in the treatment of syphilis and chronic diseases such as asthma and rheumatism. Sarsaparilla is also used to treat gouts, fevers, colds, arthritis, gas and persistent belly aches. There are also some that use the herb to help increase muscle mass due to the high levels of testosterone that are found in the plant.
“Although there is a widespread belief in the benefits of sarsaparilla on the island, there are no concrete scientific research that proves these varying benefits. The side effects of continuous use of the herb have also not been definitively highlighted by scientific evidence. Despite this, there are locals that will swear by the medicinal properties of the herb.”
“Sarsaparilla: The root of Jamaican Sarsaparilla is used to treat rheumatism, arthritis and other pains. It is used to remedy skin conditions, such as, acne, eczema, psoriasis, ring worm and scrofula diseases. It is said to cure syphilis. It is a good blood purifier. It helps to break up infections in the body by eliminating wastes through urine and perspiration. It supports the proper functioning of the liver and colon. It is an ingredient in many tonics for general well-being. Sarsaparilla is regarded as an aphrodisiac, and especially prized by Jamaican men. It balances the hormones in both males and females. It is recommended as an antidote for any strong poison but should be taken on a clear stomach. It is used to relieve flatulence and is also used as an eye-wash as well as relief for colds, fever, and as a hair growth hormone. Sarsaparilla contains the plant steroids sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol; and the saponins sarsasaponin, smilasaponin, sarsaparilloside, and sitosterol glucoside, among others. The majority of sarsaparilla’s pharmacological properties and actions have been attributed to these steroids and saponins. The saponins have been reported to facilitate the body’s absorption of other drugs and phytochemicals, which accounts for its history of use in herbal formulas as an agent for bioavailability and to enhancement the power and effect of other herbs.”
“Our sarsaparilla is made the old-fashioned way, with 100% natural traditional ingredients. Many of these ingredients are now hard to find, and almost everyone else uses artificial replacements. We worked long and hard to find sources for de-safrolized sassafrass, imported Jamaican sarsaparilla root, and our other quality ingredients, so that we could deliver you an old-fashioned honest taste that’s been hard to find anywhere for over 50 years.”
Initial flavors remind me more of a Cola than a Root Beer, with a semi-sour flavor. Maybe too much citric acid?
Late flavors include vanilla and wintergreen, but are fairly subtle.
“Bottled under the authority of: Caamano Bros. Soda Pop Co. by: Seven-Up Bottling Company, Modesto, CA”
Who are these Brothers?
“In a few short months, a sidewalk homemade soda pop stand has grown to include farmer’s market booths, distribution in local restaurants, sales throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and now distribution in many other Western States
“The Caamaño brothers, Sebastián and Alejandro, began this business early in 2010 at the ages of 13 and 12 when they witnessed their parents creating their own mineral water and asked them if they could do the same with soda pop. Their father Christopher, a gourmet chef, enthusiastically embraced the idea and thus Caamaño Bros. Soda Pop Co. was born.”
At 15, I was mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, and selling soft-drinks at Badger Football games to make my comic book money. Wow, and these kids have already launched a small business.
Just awesome, that is one very expensive lemonade stand, Mom and Dad.
I like the attitude, but the unusual Cola-like flavor puts this down to 3 out of 5 Barrels for me.
“A lighter bodied brother to our super popular Root Beer. The flavor profile has less clove, allowing the taste of wintergreen to be showcased. Soda fans agree, it’s the best they have ever had!”
Lighter in color, even! Definitely with the Wintergreen at the fore.
There are three basic kinds of Root Beer-like beverages.
Root Beer, based, more or less on Charles Hires Formula, primarily flavored with Sassafras Root Bark and Wintergreen.
Birch Beer, which is supposed to feature the flavor of Birch Bark or Birch Sap Extract or something.
Sarsaparilla, which is supposed to feature the flavor of the root of the Jamaican Sarsaparilla (Smilax regelii).
The interesting thing about Sarsaparilla is versions of Sarsaparilla flavored beer pre-date the use of Sassafras. Even more interestingly, Sarsaparilla based beverages are used traditionally in Jamaica as an, uh, enhancing tonic for male potency, currently touted by certain DJs under the name “Baba Roots”.
I’m not sure exactly where the Sarsaparilla comes in, as the Maine Root version tastes mostly like Wint-O-Green life savers.
I like that they left the Caramel Color out, but this is just too cloying and sugary.
First let’s tackle the roots of modern, commercial root beer.
I’m still investigating its historic ancestors.
Modern, commericial root beer began with Charles E. Hires.
He was a pharmacist who lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.
He started selling a flavored mix around 1870. He initially called it Hires Herb Tea, but soon changed the name to Hires Root Beer. It was a dry powder which came with instructions to mix it with water, and sugar, to produce a carbonated beverage. Soon after, he switched the product to a liquid concentrate instead of a powder.
He made a big splash with his beverage at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, as a temperance alternative to more alcoholic beers.
Around 1890, he started selling a bottled, carbonated, pre-made version, and the rest, as they say, is history. Even with some Root Beer competition from A&W in California and Barq’s in Louisiana, Hires Root Beer became one of the biggest selling soft drinks in the United States for most of the 20th Century. It remained the king of soft drinks, until Coca-Cola unseated it with its marketing push in the 60s and 70s.
Here’s a lovely pamphlet from around 1892 made available in its entirety thanks to the University of Iowa: Hires Root Beer
Hires Root Beer
And here’s a list of some of the ingredients Charles Hires claims were in his root beer circa 1920:
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
Funny, Yerba Mate! And Hops!
Most people assume that the “Hires Special Plant” in this list was Sassafras.
Dog-Grass may be Couch-Grass, (Agropyrum repens), whose, “roots have a sweet taste, somewhat resembling liquorice,” and were used medicinally.
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.”
The next big change in Root Beer came in the 1960 when it was determined that the safrole in Sassafras could be linked to cancer in rats. Sassafras was banned from food products and all commercial root beers had to be reformulated with a different balance of flavors. Primarily, Wintergreen came much more to the fore in modern Root Beer.
As an afterward, Hires Root Beer ended up in the hands of the people at the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Unfortunately, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group already had a Root Beer, A&W, and have gradually phased Hires out in most markets. It seems, they mostly bought it for the name. It is now very difficult to find Hires Root Beer, except by special order from some Internet marketers and (apparently) those olde tyme, fun loving people at Walmart.