The root beer we find on the grocery store shelves today is a far cry from its healthful ancestor. Homemade “root beer” is a purifying tonic whose roots are firmly planted in Native American medicine.
Old-fashioned root beer, the modern-day version that is, often conjures up images of drive-in movies, ice cream floats and lazy summer afternoons. Originally a tonic created using various roots; this modern day sugar laden beverage actually has its origins in Native American medicine. The “roots” used to make the authentic Native American “roots” beer contain properties that assist the body in the elimination of toxins.
The burdock root, sarsaparilla and sassafras work to purify the blood. Wintergreen, containing salicylates, adds a refreshing taste while at the same time providing a natural painkiller – a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compound similar to aspirin. The cinnamon and ginger have warming characteristics and work to stimulate circulation. The vanilla bean and sarsaparilla have a reputation for being aphrodisiacs. Maybe they are the ingredients that make root beer so popular.
Gathering Your Own Sassafras Roots, Bark or Stems
Canada. It has long been a root traditionally used to create the unique flavor of root beer. The key ingredient in sassafras is safrole. The FDA banned safrole from commercial food use in the early 60s. At that time, studies found that rats who were fed large amounts developed liver damage or cancer. However, according to Toxnet, after extrapolating human exposure based on the rodent carcinogens a person who drank a sassafras root beer everyday would have less carcinogenic risk than if drinking beer or wine daily.
Then in 1994, the Dietary Supplemental Health and Education Act lifted the ban on sassafras oil. Many microbreweries still use sassafras when making their root beer today.
Just as the Native Americans did for hundreds of years, people all across the native range of sassafras continue to harvest it and make homemade root beer yearly with no apparent detriment to their health. If you happen to live in the United States east of the Great Plains, you are in luck: Sassafras grows everywhere in that region. If you don’t live there, or don’t feel like foraging for your own sassafras, you can buy sassafras root bark online.