Homemade Sassafras Root Beer

Hank likes to add a drop or two of mint extract to the sassafras syrup, which adds a nice note.

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 2 1/2 quarts.

Ingredients

  • Several roots (including some green stems) from sassafras saplings, about 30-40 inches worth of 1/4-inch thick roots (enough to fill one cup when you chop them into 1/2-inch pieces)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds (can sub fennel)
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1-inch of stick cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts soda water

Method

1 Prepare the roots: Scrub the roots clean of any dirt.

Cut the roots into 1/2-inch long pieces. (The roots can be tough, if you have a pair of pruning shears, they work great to cut the roots.) If you have a few green stems, you can include them too, but you should have mostly roots.

Cut up as much as you need to fill one cup.

2 Simmer roots with spices: Put the roots into a small pot and cover with 4 cups of water. Add the cloves, anise seeds, allspice berries, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 25 minutes.

3 Add the molasses and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat.

4 Strain and add sugar: Strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve lined with a paper towel. Rinse out the pot. Return the liquid to the pot.

Add the sugar, heat until just a simmer and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

5 Add soda water to syrup to serve: To assemble the root beer, fill a glass with ice cubes, add the syrup and soda water in a 1:2 ratio, so 1/3 cup of syrup to 2/3 cups of soda water. Add more soda water if you want it more diluted, add more syrup if you want it stronger.

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Comments

  • Jeffrey T. Farinholt

    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.

  • Boyce Rensberger

    Which season is best for taking roots? Plants vary a lot in their content of various compounds depending on the season.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Boyce, I’ve only pulled up sassafras roots in the middle of the summer.

    • Den

      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.

  • Jessica Lidh

    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!

    • Elise Bauer

      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.

  • FB-D Odell Smalley

    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. .

  • Lisa johnson

    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.

    • Elise Bauer

      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.

  • Ittiz

    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!

  • SallyF

    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….

    • Elise Bauer

      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.

  • Neill

    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!

  • Christy

    This is a wonderful recipe. Thank you! Any tips for storing the syrup?
    Thanks!

    • Elise Bauer

      I just put it in a jar in the refrigerator. We make small batches so we drink it up pretty quickly.

  • Louis

    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!

  • Kate

    I have really fond memories of this. I grew up in Northern NY state and every year at the local county fair there was a stand where they sold homemade real sassafras root beer. It was so delicious. They also sold birch beer, which was great. Have you ever had it? They sell it in some stores in the northeast, I believe it was made by Polar, it was good but the homemade was much better. I live in the south now but I never see it for sale anywhere.

    That’s a new one for me. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on birch beer. Cool! ~Elise

  • Pam P

    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

  • mark

    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.

  • Treva Burns

    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!

  • Jesse Gardner

    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.

  • Judy Johnson

    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.

  • sheila

    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!

  • Charles

    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

  • Jeanne C

    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.

  • Heather A. W.

    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

  • Becky

    I love seeing this recipe! I just returned home from working at a summer camp as a CIT Director (couselor in training program) and sassafras played a big part on our overnight. It was amazing to see just how many of my cits (all of them) had no idea what a sassafras tree was. It was even more amazing to realize that none of these 17 and 18 yr olds had a clue that you could eat things you find in nature. GASP! It was a fun overnight filled with all sorts of new experiences. We made a simple sassafras tea in the morning that everybody loved! I’ve never made anything other than a simple tea and I can’t wait to try this.

  • Kevin

    Elise,
    My Dad’s original BBQ sauce used sassafras tea (and we used to drink it all winter), but I haven’t seen sassafras in a market in years.

    Hi Kevin, where you are you can probably just dig some up! ~Elise

  • Bill

    I grew up in Georgia, and my grandma taught me how to make what she called Sassafras Tea. (But no actual tea involved.) It was a simple Depression-era recipe (boiling the roots in water, straining, adding sugar). As you know, the best part was making something gathered from your own backyard or woods. Your root beer sounds much tastier than grandma’s “tea”, but the process was similarly satisfying, I imagine.

    • Teresa

      We used to make sassafras tea, too, same recipe as yours. Always loved it, with enough sugar to make it super sweet, of course.

      I grew up north of Huntsville, Alabama, close to Hazel Green. We had a grove of sassafras trees in the front yard. I didn’t know they preferred to grow in the shade.
      We didn’t add all the other cool spices that Elise has in her recipe, didn’t know about them, and we couldn’t afford soda water.

      We live in South Carolina, now, and I wish we had space to introduce a few sassafras saplings. They don’t get quite as bad as bamboo, but they can be a nuisance.

      I had heard that the guy who wanted to introduce Sassafras Tea to the goldminers out west in 1849 or 1850, was told to call it Root Beer, else they would turn it down.

  • Bob

    Wild sassafras is one of the things I miss most about living in NJ. I worked as a surveyor for years and spent a lot of time in the woods were it was really abundant. We used to just pull a plant out and chew on the root. I wish I could grow some out here in Colorado.

  • B

    After successfully making ginger soda, I went looking for sassafras at Rainbow Grocery in SF to make root beer back in January. At $70/lb, I decided that drinking the commercial stuff might be the better option. But if I ever have the $ to splurge, I’m bookmarking your site!

    I think you can get it on Amazon.com for about $20/lb, but it’s still expensive. ~Elise