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  • Cindy Trotter

Summer Soda Foraging and Preparing Sassafras

DIY Soda Fun for the Family

Cindy Trotter, Certified Foraging Educator

Therapeuo Wellness

Warrenton Missouri 63383

Sassafras, (Sassafras albidum), North American tree of the laurel family (Lauraceae), the

aromatic leafbark, and root of which are used as a flavoring, as a traditional home

medicine, and as a tea. The tree is native to sandy soils from Maine to Ontario and Iowa and south to Florida and Texas. The roots yield about 2 percent oil of sassafras, once the characteristic ingredient of root beer.

The sassafras tree is usually small but may attain a height of 20 meters (65 feet) or more. It has furrowed bark, bright green twigs, and small clusters of yellow flowers followed by dark blue berries. Sassafras has three distinctive forms of leaves, often on the same twig: entire, (or oval shape) two lobe, or three lobe. My grandkids call the shapes, socks, mittens or gloves. 


A Fun Family Project

Foraging, finding and harvesting Sassafras is a delightful spring and fall project for the family.  It’s also a ton of fun in the summer, but ticks and humidity can sometimes take away some of the fun.  (USE A GREAT PEST REPELLANT any time you forage.  Tickborne diseases are no joke!)

Once you identify Sassafras and interact with it, you and your family will recognize it at a glance every time of year.  It occurs in groves, so if you see one you’ll usually see a lot of trees.  In the spring the bright green branches and yellow fringy flowers are some of the first to appear, creating a recognizable contrast in bare, gray, forests. It is also one of the first to begin showing fall color. In the fall it is a beautiful orangey-yellow with peachy overtones and a little red. 


Twigs and flowers can be harvested in moderation in public lands, but since root harvesting is prohibited in conservation areas and parks, you may have to explore your own property or ask a neighbor to harvest roots.  If you find a great source for roots, the best time to harvest is after a soaking rain.  Look for young trees that are knee-high to waist high, with stems/trunks that rang in size from a man’s thumb to a child’s pencil.  Best bet is to pull straight up. If the little tree is stuck tight, use a dandelion digger to reach down about 3 inches and try to dig up the small root.  The root breaks off of the runner from which it emerges. 

If you are interesting in foraging Sassafras on your property or are given permission to forage other property, contact Cindy Trotter, Certified Foraging Educator at Therapeuo Wellness in Warrenton, MO for a ‘plant walk’.

More than Root Beer

The delightful Sassafras tree provides more than just Root Beer.  If you are not interested in harvesting roots, the young green twigs, the blooming flower buds, and the leaves all provide delightful flavor and texture in the kitchen. Most commonly, the young green twigs, buds and flowers can be used fresh or dried in a spring tea. It has a beautiful, lemony, nutty, floral flavor that is really difficult to describe. Simply place a handful of crushed blossoms and twigs in a teapot and pour boiling water over and steep 15-30 minutes.  The first time, try  tasting it every few minutes so you know what tastes best to you… very subtle, or quite strong! 


A favorite way to use sassafras in southern kitchens is to dry the leaves and grind into a  powder.  This is called Filè  which is a type of thickener used in ‘gumbo’ or stews or gravy.  If you ever purchase Filè from the spice aisle  in the grocery store, you might wonder if you can just ‘skip it’ in recipes.  It is very neutral, both in flavor or taste.  However, if you make your own, and use it in a recipe, you will understand the draw!  The flavor is lightly lemony, slightly bitter (in the good way)  and adds a wonderful texture. 

Root Beer

So now we come down to the heart of this foraging publication… How to make your own rootbeer!  The recipe follows, but first:  There are a LOT of roots!  If you don’t have access to these, just skip them! Also spices and wintergreen round out the flavor of the soda.  Everything is flexible, EXCEPT the wintergreen extract.  If you can’t find it in your spice aisle, order it from Amazon.  It’s VERY important! 

First, Make the Root/Spice Mixture

3-6 ounces of sassafras roots cleaned and crushed, cut into small pieces1 ounce dandelion root, cleaned, crushed, cut into small pieces1 oz burdock root, cleaned, crushed, cut into small piecesIf you are not using freshly harvested sassafras root,  dried root will work as well.  1 star Anise seed pod1 clove 1/4 teaspoon wintergreen

About Wintergreen ExtractWhile you don’t need much wintergreen, please don’t skip this part!  It gives your root beer a very distinctive taste and fragrance. 

If you use dried roots, these items can be blended and stored together.  You could even use this dried blend as a sassafras tea on a cold winters evening… you could have a taste of summer in a cozy warm winter beverage all in one!

Making the Syrup

Besides this root spice mixture, you will also need:

6 cups water

1/4 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)

up to 6 cups sugar preferably raw, but granulated white sugarcan also be used. 

Instructions: Pour root spice mixture into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or soup pot that has a tight fitting lid. Pour the water over the top of the roots and spices and bring to a boil over high heat. Drop the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the molasses, stir, replace the lid, and return to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature. (2-4 hours; overnight is OK)

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth, place over a large measuring cup with a pouring spout or a pitcher, and pour the cooled infusion into it to strain. Do not press on the contents, but let the roots rest in the strainer for about 30 minutes before proceeding. While that strains, rinse the pot you used  to get any lingering bits of root or spice out of it.

Measure the sassafras infusion, return it to the rinsed pot and add an equal amount of sugar -by volume- to the pot. For instance, if you have 4 1/2 cups of infusion, add 4 1/2 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, drop the heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the syrup into canning jars, fix clean, new, two-piece lids on top and store in the refrigerator up to a year. 

To Make a Root Beer Drink from the Syrup

Use 1 tablespoon of syrup over ice to 1 cup of ginger ale or  plain seltzer water. Stir gently. Enjoy!

 Put 1 or 2 tablespoons syrup in a cup of warm water for a cozy tea.


If you enjoyed this simple lesson, please contact Cindy at Therapeuo Wellness to find out about Personalized Plant walks on your property or DIY botanical classes at Therapeuo  Wellness in Warrenton MO.  Send us a message and follow our Facebook page!


If you are interested in the root and spice mix without having to forage forest, field, and food stores, Therapeuo Wellness has wild foraged the roots, and purchased the spices from  organic sources, then put it together in a jar suitable for storage of the syrup when it is finished.  If you would rather purchase than forage, the Root Beer Blend in reusable jar is available for $27. Contact Cindy if interested. 





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