I'm a big kid. Not at heart, I'm just a big kid. Yea sure, I am responsible and all that, but when it comes to sodas, the only one I've ever loved, other than ginger ale, has been root beer. The child in me screams for ice-cream and then 'FLOATS FOR ALL'. The adult part of me is doing a big 'facepalm' as my inner child giggles in delight.
The best thing I did for my family is to start making kombucha and stop buying soda. We didn't purchase it often, ginger ale for when we're sick and root beer for a treat. We had been fooled for our whole lives into thinking that ginger ale was anything other than a sugar shot with no true medicinal benefit. Our parents and theirs had been sold that lie long ago. Original Gingerbug drinks had plenty of health benefits and then suddenly it became easier and more convenient to mass produce them as a soda, unhealthy and packed with sugar and chemicals.
When I sat back and thought about the fact that I was still occasionally buying root beer for the kids as a 'treat', I started to look into what it was before the soda companies got their hands on the recipe and 'faked it up' for the masses. I had no idea what I was in for when I began to search.
The History of Root-Beer
As much as history will accredit Charles Hires for inventing root beer, its not true. Hires was a Philadelphia pharmacist who according to his biography discovered a recipe for a delicious herbal tea while on his honeymoon. There is however, a real story of many a wife brewing this concoction well before this man decided to market it and sell it to others. It's also said that this brew mix came from the Original Peoples of North America. It takes just one entrepreneur to stake claim on something once handed down for generations.
I have an issue with this. Not because I wish I had thought of this idea first or that I am saddened that I am not a billionaire soda mogul. I'm saddened because still today this is something we see happening often. A bit of ancient healing is remembered and someone starts charging exorbitant amounts and claiming the healing as their own. No one can be cited as the first one to mix these herbs when mothers in their kitchens, on their homesteads had been doing it since they could mix herbs in their pots. However, Charles Hires was the first to make money from it.
The pharmacist began selling a dry version of the tea mixture and also began working on a liquid version of the same tea. The result of was a combination of over twenty-five herbs, berries and roots that Charles Hires used to flavor a carbonated soda water drink. The Charles Hires' version of a root beer beverage was first introduced to the public at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition.
The Hires family continued to manufacture root beer and in 1893 first sold and distributed bottled root beer. Charles Hires and his family certainly contributed greatly to the popularity of modern root beer, however, the origins of root beer can be traced further back in history.
Root beer is historically analogous to small beer, beer that was brewed to have very low alcohol content. Contrary to popular belief, Charles Hires did not invent root beer as is evidenced by the fact that there are some cook books in the Library of Congress that have recipes for root beer from 10 to 20 years before he began to sell his version  with the original root beer recipe potentially coming from the native Americans . Indeed, mild root drinks such as sarsaparilla were brewed and enjoyed for hundreds of years before modern root beer . What Hires did was to develop his own spin on the drink and popularize it though innovative business models.
What's My Recipe?
The first time I tried to make a kombucha root beer I didn't quite get it right. I decided to just take the herbs and add them to the second ferment of the kombucha and as much as it tasted slightly like root beer it was not full bodied and delicious the way I wanted it to be. Only a tease of what it should really taste like. I began looking for a concentrated syrup that I could make instead. This came to me after I attempted to make wild grape jelly that ended up just being concentrated syrup. It makes a delicious grape kombucha that tastes very similar to a soda. The kids especially love it. If I could make a concentrate from grapes, then the root beer should be done this way as well, for maximum taste.
I looked all over the web, read some books and decided to go by feel.
I'm so weird in the kitchen. Give me something I have never made before and I will still not measure things out and just go by feel. I took all the recipes I could find and handpicked what I could use and what I could get my hands on. What came out of this madness was a root beer I am very happy with. The children are in love with it and friends who I have shoved a glass in front of with my big, wide eyes, as they test for me, have asked for seconds! To me, that's success!
* I have big-ish hands ;)
1 handful of sassafras bark
1 handful of sarsaparilla root
2 whole vanilla beans split open
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise pod
1 tsp of crushed fresh ginger
2 handfuls of dark raisins
dash of coriander, clove and nutmeg
9-11 litres of spring water
2 1/2 cups of cane sugar or dark honey.
Bring to a boil reduce and simmer for several hours until brew is very dark. Use canning jars and hot bath them for storage or keep in glass jars in the fridge.
If you're not making kombucha you can surely pour it into the bottom of your glass and add some club soda. Remember that the club soda doesn't have the probiotic benefits. The root beer syrup definitely has benefits though!
Benefits of Root Beer
Sarsaparilla was typically used to beautify the complexion and as a diuretic. Traditionally, wintergreen leaf was used as a carminative – that is, it was thought to prevent gas and to ease digestion, and it was also typically used to ease the pain of sciatic.. Star Anise for respiratory tract infections, lung swelling, cough, bronchitis,and the flu.
Ginger for helping with inflamed colon, muscle pain from exercise, nausea.
Other herbs and ingredients typically used in homemade root beer: ginger, dandelion, hops, birch have also featured widely in traditional herbal medicine.
In my opinion, a root beer float is the perfect tasty treat to aide with digestion after dinner. I'm pretty sure our kids agree!
Is this recipe finished? Nope, hardly. I have other additions I want to play with before I am satisfied. Everyone else seems to think this brew is fantastic as is. I'm an adventurer though, and I'm pretty sure I need to add some birch bark, berries and dandelion to this concoction come Spring. I'll keep you updated to what I change. Keep me updated with what you add!
Recipes are going to vary from meals to medicines. It's all about healing from the inside out because we truly are what we eat. What's the point? Well, gardening and foraging for your own foods, shopping local and no processed garbage or pharmaceuticals for what ails you? I think that's enough of point, don't you?
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Your medicine is in the woods.
Your pharmacy is in your kitchen.