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Simply Sassy: A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

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The dunes of my childhood where sassafras grows in abundance.

While on a trail run through the dunes of Hoffmaster State Park this summer I realized that there is no other smell reminiscent of my West Michigan lakeshore upbringing than sassafras. That aromatic, spicy rootbeer fragrance of the sassafras floats on the breeze in the dew of the morning or after a wet, damp rain. It is one of those smells that truly defines my life.

You can imagine my delight when forager friend Sam Thayer recommended me to host a Minneapolis-based film crew to learn all about sassafras for their “How To Make Everything: Rootbeer” segment! I enjoyed taking the crew through the dunes woods of my childhood stomping grounds to gather the sassafras roots for their project. Check out our final segment on sassafras HERE.

Though it is fall and the leaves are rapidly falling from the trees, it isn’t to late to gather a few saplings to make a late fall batch of rootbeer! Want to make your own local rootbeer? Read more…

A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

Sassafras albidumSassafras is common along trails and beach areas and makes a delightful tea and culinary spice. Sassafras is a small deciduous tree that grows to heights of up to 60 feet or more in optimum conditions. It commonly has mitten-shaped, three-lobed and un-lobed leaves. Its bark is a rough and reddish brown, the aromatic roots range in color from white to reddish brown. The roots of a small sapling can be gathered in the spring or fall. Wash, chop, and completely dry them.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a simple syrup with sassafras and other woodland herbs for a refreshing batch of rootbeer soda pop.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped roots of sassafras**
  • 1/4 cup burdock root*
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla*
  • 1 tbsp dry hops*
  • 1tsp juniper berries*
  • 10 wintergreen leaves*
  • 1 tsp dry ginger root*
  • 1 tsp spicebush berries (optional)*
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups MICHIGAN maple syrup

Directions:

  • Simmer herbs in a pot with 4 cups boiling water for 5 minutes, covered to retain volatile oils.
  • Strain
  • Stir in maple syrup, let cool
  • Add 1 part sassafras simple syrup mixture to 2 parts club soda and serve over ice or with vanilla ice cream
  • Sassafras simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks

*Some herbs can be gathered by hand from the wild, procured from your local health food store or ordered online. I like Mountain Rose Herbs as an online supplier for organic herbs. To learn more about sassafras or other herbs mentioned in this recipe? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging.”

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