Sassafras twig syrup is one of the more delicious flavors I’ve come across from wild ingredients: It tastes a lot like root beer, only with a lot of lemon in it. I jack up the lemon flavor, and the keeping qualities, of this sassafras syrup by adding a little citric acid, which you can find as Fruit Fresh in supermarkets, or buy online.
Unfortunately, if you don’t live in sassafras country — the United States east of the Great Plains — you’re out of luck. I know of no place that sells the twigs, and the twig bark has a markedly different flavor from the root bark, which you can buy online. If you want to work with sassafras and can only get the root bark, try making my homemade root beer recipe.
I use this syrup as a base for sodas (just add seltzer water), or as the flavoring for a granita or sorbet, in ice creams, or as a glaze for meats. The sassafras flavor is a good match with venison or beef.
Makes 1 quart
- About 2 cups of broken-up sassafras twigs
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid (or try lemon juice)
- Peel some of the green bark away from the twigs. The bark has most of the flavor.
- Cover the twigs with the water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep overnight.
- Strain the sassafras tea through a strainer to remove any debris and measure it. You should still have 2 1/2 cups.
- Add as much sugar as you have tea, stir it to combine and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
- Add the citric acid, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it is as tart as you like it. This should keep a year in the fridge.