By Karen Talbot, Wild Gardener
Supplements and powders mixed into morning smoothies are helpful in keeping ourselves looking and feeling better. But the foundation of true self-care begins at ground level with unprocessed food and drink that can deeply nourish our health and wellbeing, as well as prevent a call to the doctor’s office. A North American recipe for old fashioned soda made from roots, barks, and herbs (we can call this the Real Root Beer recipe for renewal) is one herbal component of that foundation that benefits many bodily systems. But how did this natural springtime soda originate, and what are these healing plant ingredients?
North American recipe for real root beer
When colonists arrived in the new world, there were no familiar grains to homebrew “small beer,” a fermented low-alcohol beverage that was safe to drink compared to the bacteria contaminated water back home. The generosity of Native Americans taught them how to make healthful wild root teas which evolved into root beers through natural fermentation. They began to make their own teas and remedies from their newly acquired knowledge.
I can imagine many of the following wild, and cultivated ingredients used in this recipe are related to their foraging and herbalism experiments, but I know these plants will certainly benefit the immune system, improve digestion, and cleanse the liver from toxins. They create a healthy brew far different from the chemically induced sodas found on supermarket shelves today, many of which contain petrochemicals. Real Root Beer is, as my mother used to say, “Delicious, nutritious, makes you feel ambitious!” And if you can’t or don’t want to forage, you can order the ingredients online. Some may already be lurking in your kitchen cupboard. My favorite suppliers for the rest are Mountain Rose Herbs, Frontier CO-OP, and Starwest Botanicals.
Ingredients for old fashioned self-care soda
The following is a list of what I use to make homemade root beer:
Sarsaparilla: blood cleanser, improves vitality, and benefits the hormonal system
Sassafras: spring tonic, blood cleanser after a long winter of heavy foods
Astragalus: for immunity, heart health, anti-viral
Dandelion root: diuretic supplying potassium
Birch bark: Vitamin C immunity, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, for eczema and dermatitis
Burdock root: for elimination, skin problems, internal healing
Licorice: for depleted adrenal glands and hormonal balance
Fennel seed: primary herb for digestion and flatulence
Ginger: for digestion, helping to alleviate nausea and motion sickness, warming
Mint: for digestion, flatulence, and as an expectorant
Stevia: (unprocessed whole or powdered leaf recommended) 50x sweeter than sugar, good for diabetics and/or
Molasses (blackstrap): a sweetener that alleviates anemia, menstrual cramps, constipation
Vanilla bean: adds luscious flavor but may also be an antioxidant and protects the nervous system
An all natural springtime soda
My basic recipe is a combination of what appealed to me in recipes by Rosemary Gladstar, Hunter- Angler-Gardener-Cook, SPICE jungle, Learning Herbs, and www.recipefairy.com.
The roots, barks, and herbs above are only some of the wild and cultivated ingredients to make Real Root Beer. After making it, you can add your own herbs to suit your taste such as coriander seed, wintergreen, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and any other plant that appeals to you and that you think will be appropriate.
You can forage several of these plants yourself or buy from reputable herb companies online. Digging up roots is usually done in the fall, but roots like Burdock can be dug up in early spring before flower stalks appear (signaling that all the energy is now moving up in preparation to make seed). Dandelion roots are sweeter in the spring before flower buds emerge. Do your own research and experiment with different plants for flavor and benefits, and enjoy.
Real Root Beer recipe for renewal
To make Real Root Beer, you only need roots and sweetener to make a syrup to mix with sparkling water. Sassafras roots are what has that familiar root beer flavor, but I also used several other types of roots that I had on hand. It’s a forgiving recipe you can make simply with sassafras roots, cinnamon bark, allspice berries, fennel seeds, molasses, and sugar. Pick and choose at least 5 ingredients (including sassafras) and adjust the amount of sweetener and water.
Here’s how I made 1 quart of Root Beer syrup, enough for approximately 12 servings:
· ¼ cup sassafras root
· 1 cup sassafras twigs
· ¼ cup dandelion root
· ¼ cup sarsparilla root
· ¼ cup burdock root
· 2 Tbs fennel seeds
· 2 Two inch cinnamon sticks
· ¼ cup wild cherry bark
· 1 whole vanilla bean
· 1 – 1½ inch piece of ginger root
· 1 Tbs Allspice berries (or Star Anise)
· 6 ½ cups water
· Sweetener of choice
Learn herbalism, foraging and self-care
Want some personal training in foraging and making your own health sustaining foods and beverages? The Wild Gardener will come to your home, show you what grows sustainably on your property or in your neighborhood and teach you and your friends and family how to make something delicious from Mother Earth’s pantry.
Mountain Rose Herbs: www.mountainroseherbs.com
Starwest Botanicals: www.starwestbotanicals.com
Rosemary Gladstar,: www.scienceandartofherbalism.com
Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook by Hank Shaw: www.honestfoods.net
Dr Andrew Weil, MD