Found all over the Eastern United States, sassafras has been used my humans for thousands of years. In more recent times, sassafras’s roots have put the “root” in “root beer.”
In the 1960s the FDA made safrole, which is found in sassafras, illegal for commercial use because studies showed that rats given massive amounts of safrole developed cancer or liver damage. However, further studies showed that humans would need to consume large amounts of sassafras for a long period of time for it to be dangerous. Nonetheless, caution should be taken when making sassafras root beer.
Sassafras trees can grow to be quite large, but the ideal size for making root beer is when they are saplings standing a couple feet high. Sassafras is recognizable by the unusual three different leaf patterns found on the tree, one oval shaped, one bilobed (mitten-shaped), and one trilobed.
Once uprooted, rinse off the roots and stems of any lingering dirt. If you have doubts whether you picked sassafras, break a root and give it a sniff. It should smell like root beer. You can store the roots wrapped in paper towels in a plastic bag in the fridge until you are ready to begin.
Traditionally, root beer is fermented; however in this much simpler recipe you can just use soda water.
Step one: Chop several sassafras roots (30 to 40 inches worth or about a cup full with some green stems mixed in) to about ½ and inch in length
Step two: Add four cups of water per cup of sassafras root in a pot.
Add two cloves
½ tablespoon of anise seeds
Four all-spice berries
One stick of cinnamon
Step three: Cover the pot and bring to boil and then let simmer for 25 minutes. Add ¼ cup of molasses and let simmer for an additional five minutes then remove from heat.
Step four: Strain through cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve lined with a paper towel.
Step five: Clean the pot and then add the strained liquid. Add one cup of sugar and heat to a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Remove form heat and let cool,
Step six: Now that you have the root beer syrup, all you have to do is add the syrup and soda water in a 1:2 ratio, so 1/3 cup of syrup to 2/3 cup of soda water. You can adjust this ratio to suit your desired taste.