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22 responses to “Homemade Root Beer Syrup”

  1. Tim

    Here’s one of my favorite ways of using sassafras leaves. When out camping and flyfishing for trout, I’d eviscerate and behead the trout then wrap the trout up in fresh sassafras leaves. I’d wrap it up with a rather thick layer of leaves. How thick? Hard to say but easy to demonstrate. Maybe I’d crumble up a few leaves and also put them in the visceral cavity.

    Then, I’d roast the assembly over a bed coals till the leaves got mostly shriveled and brown, preferably not burned. Usually, I’d find some discarded grill to support the assembly up off the coals. Never did I place it all directly onto the coals. I would flip it over to roast both sides thoroughly. Steam should be visibly coming out of the the assembly. Then, I’d unwrap the leaves from the fish. In so doing, the skin should stick to the leaves and peel off with the leaves leaving the meat behind on the bones.

    If its thoroughly done, the meat easily falls from the bones. The sassafras imparts a lemony flavor to the fish; the coals imparts a slight smokiness. Very yummy. Its basically steaming the fish while wrapped up in leaves. Sometimes, I’d submerge the assembly in water then drain it a bit before roasting in order to help with the steaming, but its not important usually.
    BTW: its true that sassafras will sprout back up from just a tiny root.

  2. Tim

    One more note, I didn’t eat the leaves if I did this. The leaves and skin just got tossed into the fire or buried in the ground outside of camp along with the bones.

  3. Tim

    I do have a question about your recipe. Could wintergreen leaves be used instead of extract? If so, how would you use them? Wintergreen leaves are even easier to find around here than sassafras is.

  4. Deborah Townsend

    We have groves of Sassafras trees that die on a regular basis. I was at a talk where the extension agent said Sassafras was a long lived tree. When I explained to him how our clumps were dying while still relatively young he explained to me what was happening. Apparently someone had cut the mother tree some time back and what we have growing in clumps are the sprouts that grew up from her after she was felled. These sprouts (now the size of full grown trees) are short lived. But the roots are still pure Sassafras 🙂

  5. Daniel

    Any ideas on how to get a stronger flavor out of this? I’ve made this recipe every year for the past 4 years, but I always wish I could make it stronger. Obviously I could add less sugar, but it would be less stable and it would water down my drinks.

    I’ve also tried basically the same recipe steeped for a few months in Everclear and the mixing with a bit of the syrup. This produces an amaro-like drink, but it still isn’t quite as strong as I would like. I’ve also tried boiling it down, but this didn’t seem to work.

  6. Shawn Dougherty

    Just made this. its delicious. Thanks Hank!

  7. Tim

    I’ve done that too with wintergreen. Sort of, I used Everclear instead.
    I totally forgot to mention (remind folks) that wintergreen isn’t particularly soluble in water. Boiling doesn’t work so well. The way I learned to make wintergreen tea is to ferment the leaves in water for like a week or something like that. It’s been years since I’ve made any so I don’t remember details. I just remember that to make wintergreen tea the leaves need fermented in room temp. water not steeped in hot water.

  8. Valerie

    For those with access to the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) that grows in the northern white birch forests, I’ve found that adding it to a herbal root brew such as yours is mighty delicious. Chaga naturally distills the essence of Birch by feeding off the sugars and medicinal saps (betulinic acids) coursing through its bark, tapping into the immune system of this highly resilient tree that survives the coldest winters.

    Both flavor wise and color wise, it gives a depth (think, cured oak barrel or a cork off a vintage wine) that mirrors molasses.

  9. Ragin Cajun

    Sassafras root ground up in gumbo file! It’s a thickener.

  10. johanna

    oh my gosh i love this!!! thanks so much!
    perhaps it’s the season, but i am really in the mood for a cooling rooty drink-

  11. johanna

    can i use the dried chickory root (i think chickory is burdock?) that is used in place of ground coffee?
    it may be roasted..
    would it work or should it be fresh root from a field somewhere?

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  13. Gordon

    This! THIS is the reason I’ve found your blog so consistently interesting and surprising over the years.

    Totally out of left field topic made manifest and relevant by detailed and succinct writing. I’ve loved sassafras for years (esp. as candy when I was a kid) but never would have thought to write about it.


  14. Robin Black

    My goodness does this bring back memories. My late maternal grandfather, who had a little 10-acre spread in Louisiana after he retired, taught me (among other things) how to forage for sassafras, which grew in abundance on their property. Taught me how to snap a tiny piece of twig and check for that lemon aroma (much of their land was a tangle of various plants, including polk salad, and the smell test was the easiest way to confirm you had the right plant). Taught me how to infuse the root for tea, and grind the leaves for file (but I mostly just made the tea, which I thought was nifty in that it tasted like root beer). You would’ve liked him, Hank. He would hunt (and eat!) just about anything (always double-check before tasting whatever was on the stove–my mom was less than thrilled once when she discovered she’d been eating racoon).

  15. Jeff

    I’ve been looking for a root beer syrup recipe for a LONG time!
    Getting away from pop/soda (esp. high fructose corn syrup & artificial sweeteners) has been a perennial goal of mine, with wins and loses. Most substitutes I’ve found lacking, cucumber waters, cider vinegar concoctions, etc. Lemongrass tea has been my most enjoyable cold drink, so far. I can’t wait to try this recipe!!! 🙂
    Thank you!

    I’m so glad to have found your website and look forward to checking out more articles and your podcast, it’s right up my alley!

  16. Andy

    Looks like you’re using fresh roots, so are those measures wet weight for the roots? I’m traveling in the east now, got some sassafras roots today!

  17. Adena

    People tend to waste the sassafras leaves and the sassafras flowers. At different stages–and sizes–of the leaves, they can be used for a variety of purposes.

    The green twigs can be cleaned and dried, turned into whittlings, bagged as used as clothes fresheners like lavender or mint. I used to hang a bag on my truck rear-view mirror as a car freshener, too.

    I like to prune my sassafras trees in the spring ( no, they’re not wild, they grow in my garden and in some places become invasive ). When I prune them, I prune the buds like a Japanese gardener, pulling off the young, expanding leaves and flowers. You can use these as garnish or dry them and add to them to foods for flavour.

    As the leaves become a little larger, they are good to eat for a snack since they are very lemony at this stage and quite refreshing and not at all bitter. They have a mucilaginous quality like okra if you eat a bunch of them and also freshen your breath.

    If you dry the leaves, then grind them up in a mortar and pestle, you have file’ powder.

    Full-size leaves are also good lightly steamed or parboiled or briefly microwaved, used as a food wrap for meat and rice mixtures or other ingredients. In mid-spring through through early summer, we frequently collect larger sassafras and grape leaves to stuff. Chicken and pork are good fillings.

    Fresh roots are best for good teas, but when are preparing the flower beds and ‘harvest’ a lot of the fleshy roots that have meanwhile ‘invaded’ them, we also dry a bunch for use later. Just be sure they are thoroughly dried prior to storage or they will mould. When we use the dried roots, we use a lot, simmer it a long time to make a stronger liquor, then dilute it as needed. If you simmer it into a syrup, it can be lightly sweetened with stevia or other sweeter and used over ice cream or as a glaze.

    Sassafras is a good blood-thinner and diuretic. Since I spent a lot of time outdoors over the winter, my blood thickens, so sassafras tea makes a good spring tonic to prepare me for warmer weather. This is how the Cherokee and Shawnee used it and probably who originally taught our family all about it.

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