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73 responses to “Sassafras and Homemade Root Beer”

  1. Good. Food. Stories. » Nachos and root beer floats

    […] kill someone with an unexpectedly poisonous leaf—Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has a homemade root beer recipe on […]

  2. Kevin

    I wish this was kicking about here, but sadly, I do not live where you describe. Those photos of Elise’s are fan-tastic!

  3. Hettar7

    I never knew file powder was just sassafrass leaves dried. you learnt me yet again. :)

    This was a very informative post and I’m excited to try the recipies. I’m going to have to try to find a tree (or a few) to transplant near my house now.

  4. Elise

    I just have to chime in here. This root beer that Hank made is OUTSTANDING. Really really really good. Hank made a batch at my house (hence the photos) and left me with a quart of the syrup. My dad came over later and I served him a homemade root beer with the syrup mixed with some soda water. He drank three glasses. Everyone I’ve served this to has looked up with amazement in their eyes at how good it is. I’m headed to Massachusetts in a few weeks and can’t wait to forage around for some sassafras so I can make this root beer for friends out there. If you have access to sassafras I highly recommend giving this one a go, especially if you’re a root beer fan.

  5. deana@lostpastremembered

    You can find sassafras in Central Park in NYC. I went on a foraging tour there and got to sniff a bit… I love the idea of root beer from scratch… perhaps in the interest of leaving the park its trees I will buy some… thanks for the recipe!

  6. Garrett

    That homemade rootbeer was crazy good, Hank. Now I just need to find a place that sells sassafras and burdock roots online.

  7. Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks

    Amazing! Just found your site through a link on Simply Recipes, and I am loving your style.

  8. sgeddings

    FYI: The FDA banned the use of sassafras oil not just for being carcinogenic, which I agree with Hank, anything in that large amount is bound to be carcinogenic including black pepper. But sassafras also causes liver damage which has been researched and found to be the safrole component of sassafras oil. This is an article that summarizes the research well, just scroll down to Sassafras oil. Then you can make an informed decision for yourself. I happen to be from Louisiana and make gumbo and thus use file powder (ground sassafras leaves). Using it now and again, I don’t consider to be that bad. But just be aware of the dangers before you drink alot of homemade root beer on a regular basis, especially if you have other risk factors for liver damage such as certain prescription drugs and heavy alcohol use.

  9. Janna M

    I’m really excited because I live in Massachusetts. I’ll be on the hunt for sassafras very soon. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been reading about the possible harm from them and you’ve calmed my fears.


    You know when I was a young girl ( I am 52 now) my Grandmother had us drink sassafras tea just about daily in the spring because she said it was a good tonic for the blood. Grandmother must of been right, we were healthy as can be as kids hahah. My Father would get branches but more often the roots as they are a bit more intense in flavor.

  11. matt

    WOW, I never realized how hard times were in the Shaw household – having to resort to cooking up trees? Blimey..

    Seriously though, your blog is unique mate. I don’t know another site out there with such culinary diversity as yours. I am just wondering to get said ingredients up here in Seattle. I would love to give this one a try.

    Great photos by Elise BTW.

  12. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Okay, I’m sold. I tried to do root beer the old-fashioned way, with yeast fermentation. Like you, I was astonished to find that my mix tasted just like root beer (we have sassafras and wintergreen on our property). Then the yeast ate the sugar and it tasted like really bad cough syrup. I’m doing it your way from here on in.

    Re: safrole. The first rule of toxicology is that the dose is the poison. All the research on safrole involves giving a great deal of it to rats. To draw conclusions about the the impact of the occasional root beer on human health is virtually impossible, but I’d bet we all do riskier things every day.

  13. Jessica

    I love all of this great info! I always wondered what was in root beer… now I know!

  14. Nathan

    Howdy Hank,

    Just brewed up the twig syrup from some trees in Maryland. Ironically enough, I’m spending this summer on the Sassafras River, so the syrup made sense. Made filé powder a little earlier in the year and had excellent results again. Thank you for maintaining such a wonderful blog on this kind of stuff.

    All the best,

  15. Jose

    Wintergreen wild grows in the same area as sassafras.
    It’s a little hard to spot during the summer but once
    the undergrowth has turned brown in the fall it’s
    easy to spot. The leaves need to be dried before
    use, or so I’ve read. And the berries are eatable.

  16. Exploded Daniel

    That’s it! You’ve got to make Dr. Pepper syrup somehow. Keep blowing my mind.

  17. Lauri

    Wow my Bro used to bring it home to our apartment
    when we lived in Dinwiddie Co, VA…..1968.

  18. Janet

    Wow! Thank you so much. I have a Sassafras tree and didn’t have a clue what to do with it. The yard of this house that we bought is full of useful plants, but the Sassafras had me stumped. We have children and it will be so much fun to make rootbeer for and with them. Thank you again. ?

  19. Michelle

    Hi Hank… I enjoyed this blog post and I had fun making the syrup with items purchased from Amazon. (There are no sassafras trees in Arizona!) For an alternative use for the syrup, check out my post for making Root Beer Marble Ice Cream.

  20. Grace

    My sister-in-law found another recipe and told me about it after she made a batch. I want to try this. Was wondering if it could be canned, or must it be stored in a cold place? I also learned about file’ during my research. I always thought there should be a use for the leaves. I remember chewing the leaves as a kid. I’ m originally from Ohio were sassafras grows good. It also grows where I live now. I have some on my property so I don’t have to look for it. Looking forward to try this. Glad it has a long shelf life uncanned.

  21. greenjeens7

    How much finished product does this base make? We usually make 5 gal. of finished product and keg it.

  22. greenjeens7

    Thanks for the reply. I guess I misunderstood the recipe. I now see that it said 2 qts. My question now, is this 2 qts of concentrated syrup and if so how many gallons approx. will it make?

  23. greenjeens7

    Thanks, I’ll give it a shot and post the results!

  24. Homemade Sassafras Root Beer

    […] roots for homemade root beer. Credit for the root beer goes to Hank Shaw who taught me all about how to make root beer from sassafras on one of his return trips from the east coast. Sassafras grows wild all over the eastern United […]

  25. Liz

    I made this today. I found the Sassafras root and the Burdock root at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, in the bulk section.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  26. story

    Hank, I’ve been looking for sassafras root or sassafras root bark, but am having trouble with discerning if there is a difference between “sassafras root” and “sassafras root bark.” Does the recipe call for the roots (like your fourth photo shows)? Or the bark of the root? The reason why I’m nit-picking over the details is that I’ve found a site online that sells sassafras root bark (amazon) as well as another (mountain rose herbs), much more inexpensively, that sells sassafras bark. Is there a difference? I am excited to try your recipe!

  27. Donna Cyr

    Hank great site, I teach wild edibles for many years now just want to let all our fellow wild free food followers that sassafras tea and all other recipes have been around for hundreds of years. even longer . modern man has no idea how to live after nature. I was once told by someone that if i taught all the people how to hunt for wild foods there would be nothing left in the wild lmasf . please keep up the great work people need to know theres more out there than the grocery stores

  28. Patty

    I grew up in Maryland with sassafras all around me. I have lived in Missouri for the last 20 years and recently found a sassafras tree on our 100 acres. My kids cannot wait to try homemade root beer. We live off the land as much as possible and this will be educational for my kids….just like milking the cow, cheesemaking and baking sourdough bread. Thanks for the information you have provided.

  29. Christian Collins

    Hello Hank,
    Do you visit Cape Ann often? I live in Gloucester and would love to forage and break bread with you next time your in the area. In the meantime I will be walking across my street and gathering some sassafras, I can’t wait. I have to say thank you for the knowledge I like how you share multiple uses for one ingredient. thanks again.

    Best regards,

    Christian Collins

  30. Kevin J Olivieri Sr

    Hank And Elise You 2 R Great, I’ve tried your rub for RIBS, will never eat out again, I will make them at home, And the Sassafras Root Beer Is out of this world GOOD, I live in Rhode Island. And do a lot of Foraging for Mushrooms, So as soon as I saw your Sassafras Recipe, I broke out the Camera and was out the door, Within 5 minutes I found plenty of Sassafras seedlings around one of my favorite fishing Holes, Now that I taught my grandson how to Forage and make it, We’ll have those Memories embeded for Life, while sitting back drinking this Delicious Treat. Thank You Both for sharing such Knowledge. Sincerely Kevin

  31. story

    Hey Hank, Got the root beer syrup done — it’s fantastic! I posted it today ( I foraged around, looking for some sassafras in my neighborhood without any luck. I ordered my sassafras root bark online at Mountain Rose Herbs. Thanks for the recipe!

  32. Nan

    Just returned from a trip to the farm in North Carolina for a Christmas visit with the family. Remembered sassafras from childhood when my Mom made tea for cleasing the blood and we drank it often. My nephew gathered the roots for us (I shared it with my step-daughter who is a naturalist). We both brought home sassafras roots for the tea. The root beer is an interesting alternative and we plan to try it. Thank you for the alternative uses for the plant. I will share the the recipes with my nephew. I’m sure that he will use it to make the file, as he makes gumbo and will love making the root beer. Thank you for sharing.

  33. Let’s start simple! | HeeSee

    […] I get some more bottle space: apple, cherry, blueberry, orange, strawberry and if I can find it root beer This entry was posted in Uncategorized by andrew. Bookmark the […]

  34. shari sherman

    f.y.i. wintergreen oil is otherwise known as methyl salicylate. it’s an external analgesic, among other things. i mix up a killer “witch’s brew” for all kinds of aches and pains, even open wounds. i use it and camphor, menthol, DMSO, eucalyptus oil, aloe, lavender oil, & many other lesser essential oils. i have fibromyalgia, degenerating disc ‘s, costal chondritis, to name just a few maladys. and oh my does this stuff work wonders. my friends all love it too. anyhow, i order large amounts of the first several ingredients when making up a batch and all i did was type in (on the www) wintergreen oil or methyl salicylate and you’ll get many responses. i just looked for the cheapest, in this last case i bot 16 oz. for $26.95 incl shipping.

    thanks for your great information and responses from people who actually sound like they have a brain in their heads. most of these dialog sites i’ve happened across are pretty useless. i originally was looking for sassafras bark for tea making purposes, but you all have got me jazzed about making root beer now. can’t wait to try it! thanks again, the purple lady.

    p.s. i live in s.w. washington state so i won’t be foraging. too bad.

  35. shotgunner

    Just brewed a batch. My syrup is cooling and I am on my way to the corner store for seltzer! The syrup tastes divine.

    Thanks Hank.

  36. Kristin

    I just made the root beer syrup for a living history program we’ll be doing in a few weeks at a gold mining camp. I was wondering what the ratio of syrup to sparkling water would be. A teaspoon or a tablespoon? I think the kids are really going to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing it.

  37. CarolG

    When I was young and wanting to make sassafras tea for school I asked my neighbor for some help as I knew he was clearing some off of his land. He gave me some pieces from a root that was 6 inches in diameter. I found the whole root was highly flavorful so perhaps the age/size of the root also matters. Also the leaves make a tasty garnish for some sandwiches.

  38. Root Beer Syrup with a Twist | Canning Jars Blog

    […] Hank Shaw’s recipe for root beer syrup, I made a batch.  I did not have any burdock root, and I’m still a little shaky on what […]

  39. Paula

    Hi Hank,
    You mentioned that the ratio of sugar to water had to be the same. I added six cups of water, but after it boiled and simmered, only 3 were left, so I added three cups of sugar. Is the end result supposed to be thick like molasses or more watery? Mine is watery. Should I add more sugar?

  40. Root Beer Syrup | Make Ahead Mondays | Foodie With Family

    […] nuts. But I discovered something. I’m clearly not alone in thinking this way. I discovered Hank Shaw a.k.a. Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Hank Shaw is, in a nutshell, awesome. I’ve always had a DIY bent, but Hank Shaw? I’m […]

  41. Bob Osipov

    I’ve been making tea with the Boy Scouts on camping trips but I’d love to be able to do this too. Any ideas on how I might use checkerberries or checkerberry leaves instead of Wintergreen Oil?

  42. albert larabell

    i use seasoned sassafras wood in my smoker makes out standing smoke of course best flavor

  43. Emily

    I foraged some sassafras root on a camping trip this weekend and googled “Sassafras root beer”, which is how I found this recipe! I’ve attempted “real” root beer in the past and every time basically got a not-unpleasant-but-definitely-not-rootbeer kind of fizzy herbal tea. I knew I was looking for a kind of syrup base so I could do all sorts of things with it and this was PERFECT.

    I made some adjustments with the flavor based on what I had: I omitted the coriander seed and added 4 peppercorns, 2 juniper berries, 2 allspice, 1 cinnamon stick, a small pinch of nutmeg, and 1 TB of Sarsaparilla (had it from a previous root beer attempt). I had wintergreen extract: I harvested wintergreen leaves the previous summer up in Maine and chopped them finely, and infused them into vodka for about a month and strained. It’s been sitting in my bar ever since – so I used about two tablespoons here, but only added it after the final “simmer” with the sugar.

    Again, thrilled with the resulting flavor – and this makes A LOT. I filled two ball jars and two smallish flip-top bottles. Am thinking of mixing a couple cups of this with vodka and just letting it age for an awesome liqueur. But the possibilities are endless! Thank you!!

  44. Urban Foraging 101: Know Your Seasons | ChangingMedia

    […] The shovel is for digging roots. Now that it’s well into fall there are fewer greens and berries available to harvest, but plenty of nuts and roots to dig up. So far I’ve found a few great patches of Burdock and Sassafras. And trust me, you need a full-size shovel to get these suckers out of the ground. Burdock roots are great in stir fries or boiled. And Sassafras, or course, is the main ingredient to homemade Root Beer. That’s actually how I found my favorite foraging blog by Hank Shaw — through his outstanding Root Beer recipe. […]

  45. Tony Figorski

    Silly question…when list ounces, I assume that is weight, not volume…

  46. Michael Rogers

    I have made this numerous times now and it always comes out great. Don’t rush the steeping time ( between 4 & 5). That and the winter green extract is what brings it home!

  47. Dedra

    I cannot wait to try this with my little kids. They love the woods and this will be a great treat for them to forage and make something they love. Thanks for the recipe! Look forward to more foraging recipes.

  48. Deb

    If you are up this way in MA to get Sassafras you should grab some wintergreen leaves and berries at the same time.. I personally like them better than spearmint and peppermint. We have tons growing around our many Sassafras trees and saplings.

  49. Jack

    You can also make tea out of black-birch, but im not exactly sure how to make it :]

  50. Mike

    Another recipe I saw substituted vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean for the wintergreen. Anyone tried it?

  51. Louis


    I’ve been hunting for sassafras root – being in Alberta, Canada it doesn’t exactly grow in my back yard. What area do you reside in? Know any place which would be willing to ship some my way?

  52. JessieB

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been perfecting my own root beer– fermenting and making the soda– but since each batch is so radically different & since I’m not using stabilizers, when a batch ferments the flavors continue to change, I’ve wondered about trying syrups. I would point folks to Mountain Rose Herbs for a good source of sassafras root. I hate yanking up a seedling so I use the already dried, organic root. I didn’t think about gathering twigs though from the trees, which won’t kill the seedling. Thanks again.

  53. PAULA

    I have so many saplings that I just go yanking them out of my flower gardens. We have 3 large trees. As bad as acorn saplings! Oy Vey.
    I never thought to make tea.
    Milford, CT.

  54. Joe Keough

    Love the tea. Hot or cold.

  55. Mark Preston
  56. Monica Wilson

    I’m using dried sassafras and burdock. Should I use less to account for water loss?

  57. Valerie Anderson

    Thanks for the recipe! I had some amazing small-batch root beer recently that is only available on site at a local pub and I’m dying to recreate the experience at home.

  58. angie cali

    I am trying out a recipe for root beer kefir. I bought Sassafrass bark and sarsaparilla bark at my local health food store. Both barks were quite expensive and I was wondering if I can rebrew the bark? I spread the barks out thin and allowed to dry completely – considering placing in the dehydrator to ensure dryness. I know typically I can rebrew with traditional teas but was uncertain about this.

  59. carmen

    I thought root beer is made with sarsaparilla roots, I looked online and the sarsaparilla plant looks different from sassafrass. what’s the difference between the 2?

  60. Kelly

    Thanks for your post! I often make root beer, very close to your tea, but I use a ginger bug to carbonate the beverage. You can find directions for making a ginger bug online at cultures for health or many other websites.

  61. Janet Mooneyham

    Thanks for sharing you recipe, I can’t wait to try it, I live on a farm and have alot of sassafrass trees.

  62. Scott

    We Cajuns in the bayou country of south Louisiana have been making file for gumbo and
    sauces for generations This is what my grandmother taught me: pick sassafras leaves in the month of August and hang them in a sack in the smokehouse or other out building to cure and dry. In the winter my grandmother would remove and discard the leaf stems, place the leaf pieces in a dish towel and crush them with a hammer until they were powdered. Each generation carries on the age old tradition except now we have food processors to crush the leaves.

  63. Hayley

    What kind of flavor does the star anise give to the root beer??

  64. Kaiji

    I have an abundance of sassafras saplings around, so I want to make some root beer for myself and the kids ( So it must be alcohol free) So I plan to follow my own variation of the recipes I have looked through, and have decided on my own twist of flavor including almond oil, sassafras root bark, clove, anise, burdock root, coriander seed, and a mixture of evaporated cane juice with molasses. I will use that to make a nice root beer syrup, which I can then add with sparkling water to give root beer soda pop. :)

    I hope it goes well :) I plan to put it to action in a few weeks, I will have to post the taste results from me, my niece, and nephew. See ya then.

  65. Jeremy

    Star anise is black licorice flavor.

  66. andrew

    I tried this recipe using dried sarsaparilla in place of a sassafras.
    I subbed a bit of dried wintergreen leaves for the extract too.

    It turned out really well. The decoction itself was so intense and amazing!

    The only problem was that after simmering the decoction for 15 min, I lost a lot of water and so the 6 cups of sugar ended up being almost twice as much (if we are matching to volume). I made one at full 6 cups of sugar and it was too sweet, and ended up seizing when mixed with ice and soda (not mixing well!). I recommend matching the sugar after you simmer.

    On tasting notes, I might add a bit more spice to it via a piquant cinnamon or with ginger etc. I also might reduce the molasses a tiny bit, unless you subbed a spicy smoky heat to balance out the burnt taste.

    I also tried to reuse the boiled spices just adding a new amount of molasses and it was horrible. Definitely can’t reuse the mash!

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