I haven’t been brewing much for the past year or so, for the simple reason that I’ve cut way back on my own drinking. But I still love to brew, so it occurred to me half-way through December that I could brew a batch of beer to give away.
Sassafras albidum was once considered the preeminent healing herb of eastern North America, and was also a major ingredient in root beers, until the FDA banned its sale based on one, somewhat questionable study finding it carcinogenic.
The root bark is where the flavor compounds are concentrated. Dig sassafras roots in the fall or winter: they are immediately distinguishable from other tree roots by their aromatic odor, reddish-brown color and the fact that they break easily. Sassafras is a common understory and small canopy-height tree on dry slopes and ridgetops, and it often grows in large rings. Always show respect and avoid taking too much from one spot. Scrub the roots and use immediately, or freeze, or peel off the bark and dry it.
Sassafras and black birch (i.e. wintergreen, more or less) are the dominant notes here; the other flavors blend into a citrusy background. This is a refreshing, summery drink, a bit acidic — imagine a cross between unsweetened herb tea and a nice mild ale.