sassafras

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.

Appalachian True Root Beer

Appalachian True Root Beer

A hopped alcoholic root beer with mostly wild-harvested roots and herbs and a bock-ish grain bill.

Pennsylvania Native Plant Gruit Beer

Pennsylvania Native Plant Gruit Beer

A malt-forward, porter-like beer with a nicely balanced blend of root-beerish flavors

Alcoholic root beer, Prohibition-style

Alcoholic root beer, Prohibition-style

A light, refreshing, warming beverage with a very well-balanced flavor profile. Does it taste like root beer? Not really; there’s nothing caramelly about it. More like a spiced pilsner.

Sassafras-Black Birch Beer

Sassafras-Black Birch Beer

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.

Sassafras beer: a short history

Sassafras beer: a short history

The small tree known as sassafras (Sassafras albidum) was once one of the most prized plants of North America.

Indian Sarsaparilla Gruit Ale

Indian Sarsaparilla Gruit Ale

A partial mash-extract beer featuring a great many delicious spices.

Yarrow Gruit Braggot Ale

Yarrow Gruit Braggot Ale

Braggot is half beer, half mead. I brewed this way back on July 24, 2002, when honey was cheap and when my technique involved a LOT of herbs, usually including roasted dandelion root.