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I’ve not tried this recipe yet but in trying to work sassafras root into a root beer, I am always left with a really horrible bitter flavor. The smell is great, but the flavor is terrible no matter the sugar I use. How do you combat that or is it something that you accept?
Hi John, I’ve never had an issue with bitterness making this. I pick very young saplings whose roots aren’t yet woody, and then I scrub the roots really well.
I have not yet, but will soon use this recipe. I have gathered many roots over the years and each time I happen to visit friends that have a yard with undisturbed vegetation, I begin looking for the sassafras small trees. Once a person finds one of these plants, it becomes an enjoyable search and find hobby. If just beginning to look for these plants, it helps to take a picture of the leaves along, just make sure leaves are still on the other trees in the forest as a typical rule of thumb, since the leaves fall off the plants here in Virginia around 30-45 days after the oak trees, for the winter season. The roots can run a long way under the ground surface so having a small digging tool will allow you to lightly wiggle the plant, watch the soil move around the roots and move the dirt with tool to continue gathering more roots. At some point, you will decide to cut and remove the plant and root. Even when the roots are small like sewing thread, they still carry that root beer smell. It is such a sweet natural smell. Now, in my experience, after I have gathered them, I will cut where the dirt line on the plant is, as the root beer smell above soil level is no longer present, the smell is only in the roots. This is just my rule of thumb. Good luck.
Which season is best for taking roots? Plants vary a lot in their content of various compounds depending on the season.
Hi Boyce, I’ve only pulled up sassafras roots in the middle of the summer.
As many articles point out, I did the roots when the ground thaws out. I live in northern Indiana and it’s generally mid March before the ground thaws enough to allow us to dig the roots. I wash the roots and let them dry. Once dry, I “shave” the bark off and throw away the rest.
I know someone asked the question, but I didn’t need know if someone came up with an option for canning the syrup? I’d love to give as gifts!
Hi Jessica, I think if you just pour the hot syrup into canning jars, seal them, and give them a 10 min hot water bath, you should be fine. There’s enough of a sugar concentration to keep any bad bad bugs from growing. The hot water bath will kill any mold spores.
I has piece of Sassafras Root that is over 40 years old which I inherited from my grandmother . I recall them making rootbeer when I was really young . But I have no clue from what recipe . This root still to this day can fill the room with the greatest rootbeer Oder of all. .
Is there a noticeable difference in taste in sassafras roots vs sassafras leaves? Domestic sassafras file’ leaf powder is very easy to come by and I would like to use it in a root beer recipe that I plan to naturally carbonate with yeast. Thank you.
Hi Lisa, I think file powder would muddy up the drink, no matter what the taste is. But if you try it, please let us know how it turns out for you. I’ve only made this root beer with sassafras roots.
Great post! Growing up I used to hate commercially manufactured Rootbeer. Decades later, after I bought a house in southern NH, I was walking down the road and noticed skinny tress with mitten shaped leaves growing all along the ditches. Not long after I found similar trees growing all over my property. So I decided to look up what they were. I found out about Rootbeer and how the use of the trees was banned ect ect… and basically how the Rootbeer I hated as a kid, wasn’t real Rootbeer since they weren’t allow to put Sassafras in it! I also learned that some manufacturers put anise or fennel in it (a flavor I despise).
After that I set out to make my own real Rootbeer, just to find out if I really like the flavor. I read about how safrole was “carcinogenic” but I’m a molecular biologist, so I decided to read the studies that “proved” it in order to understand their reasoning. Basically what I found was that the carcinogenicity in rats was extremely low (this is what the HERP value is based on). Beyond that I found that humans don’t have the same issues with Safrole that rats do (rat’s livers process the chemical creating carcinogenic byproducts that human livers do not) so in reality Safrole is even less carcinogenic to humans than the HERP value suggests.
After reading the current research I felt completely safe making my own root beer (similar to yours, minus anise). I have to say I liked it! People shouldn’t be worried about Sassafras. One of the big incentives to ban it is Safrole is a precursor for other controlled drugs they don’t want people to have (same reason real Sudafed is hard to get these days). No one should be worried! Enjoy your Rootbeer and Sassafras Tea, cancer free!
Thanks for elaborating on the safrole issue!
While I love sassafras, and just crushing it in my hands takes me back to summers in Michigan, but it is a potential carcinogen, and therefore I will enjoy the look of the leaves and the smell when crushed, but I’ll buy my tea in the grocery store….
Hi Sally, I think the amount you would have to ingest to be an issue would be a ridiculously huge amount, at least according to the research I’ve seen.
Thanks for this write up! The internet has made it seem almost scary trying to make original recipe root beer. Feeling encouraged after seeing this that I should try!
This is a wonderful recipe. Thank you! Any tips for storing the syrup?
I just put it in a jar in the refrigerator. We make small batches so we drink it up pretty quickly.
I’ve been on the hunt for sassafras roots for a while now, living in Alberta Canada they don’t exactly grow in my back yard and finding a supplier is next to impossible so far. Most of the online websites that come up look very sketchy. I brew beer, wine, and I’m itching to make a root beer with the kids. If anyone knows where I can buy some please let me know! Heck, if anyone wants to harvest and dry some for me and mail it I’d be up for that too!
when I was young all the kids that lived in our neighborhood would go into the woods and get the roots bring them back for one of the older ladies and she would whip up a batch of tea. I now live in the middle of a wooded area and have huge groves of the sassafras trees :) and this summer will be the first time I will attempt to make my own tea = thanks to your site
I spent many summers on the cape, while I never had sassafras beer, we did make tea, which is much easier. simply boil the stripped roots in water and mix in sugar while still hot. Drink hot or over ice for refreshing ice tea.
I am flabbergasted!!! This is the plant that we have been cursing for 10 years because it has taken root in our side yard and grows like crazy!I bet there are 200 plants since it has an underground root system. I had no idea what it was-just that it smelled good when we got the brushcutter out to plow it down again.Thank-you so much for the knowledge AND the recipe!
If you can’t get homemade birch beer, Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer is the best commercially produced birch beer I’ve tasted. The stuff is fantastic, rich and licorice-y.
You’ve brought back memories of my childhood! We had Sassafras trees in our back yard and while we never made root beer, we did make Sassafras tea. It had a lovely fragrance and the most beautiful golden pink color.
Oh My Goodness Gracious! My littlest is going to be ever indebted to you for this recipe. We have Sassafras growing all over our property, she is always whittling down the twigs….and wanting to make root beer, but I have been a lazy mom and have not investigated how…so now you just dropped it in my lap…no more excuses! Thanks Elise. Cheers!
I love sassafras, tea or chew, but I have to say one thing: sassafras has a nasty habit of growing in the same places as poison ivy. Just another set of leaves to memorize, but well worth learning. Fair warning! (And though I miss sassafras, I do not miss poison ivy here in Arizona.)
Good point! I did notice quite a bit of poison ivy out there. It’s similar to our poison oak. ~Elise
Growing up in Wisconsin in the 50’s and 60’s,we didn’t make Sassafras rootbeer (although we drank it quite often). However, my dad was a big fan of Sassafras tea, and always kept some on hand in the pantry, or fruit cellar. It’s one of the things I miss, now living in California.
Did you know that File (as in File Gumbo) comes from Sassafras leaves?
Sassafras trees have got to be my favorite (silvery bark, beautiful fall color, berries that attract birds, ‘Tolkien-esque’ growth habit), and they can actually get quite large. I planted one in my backyard when I was 5, by the time I was 15 it was 90 feet tall!
Yep, Hank told me all about file gumbo! Wow, your tree got that big? Cool! ~Elise