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Healthy Habits: Sassafras

Healthy Habits:

Sassafras root bark was traditionally used for the most delicious beverage (in my opinion) known to humans – root beer!  After enormous amounts of sassafras were fed to lab rats and the safrole in it allegedly causing them liver damage and cancer, the FDA banned it and root beer companies stopped using the ingredient.

If you’re worried about using sassafras because of this study done in the 1960s, then skip down to the root beer recipe below and leave out the sassafras. However, consider that any herb taken in extremely large amounts, as was administered to rats in the above mentioned study, would be toxic. That being said, always do your research and/or check with your health care practitioner before trying a new herb.

The stems, leaves, branches, fruit/berries and flowers of these perennial, deciduous trees are used, along with the roots, for many different medicinal and culinary purposes. When taken in the proper dosage, sassafras is a valuable medicine.

Here are some of the many possible health benefits of sassafras:

Immune system booster, cancer preventative, eases menstrual cramping, promotes skin & hair health, boosts dental health, detoxifies the body, natural pain reliever, increases energy, anti-inflammatory, treats colds, heals wounds, blood purifier, relieves adrenal stress, treats rheumatoid arthritis and helps in healing kidney disorders.

If you’re harvesting yourself, do so sustainably. If you purchase a sassafras tincture, capsule, powdered root or tea, make sure that the manufacturer practices sustainable harvesting, and choose organic and Non-GMO.

Now, back to root beer!

If you’d like to try your hand at making a healthy, delicious version that doesn’t have artificial ingredients and/or loads of cane sugar, you can make a decoction with sassafras and other herbs (recipe below), and then cook that down with the sweetener of your choice to create a condensed syrup (reduction) for flavoring sparkling water.

Or, use the decoction for flavoring your homemade kombucha, which will add more health perks in addition to  the many this delicious tonic provides. (See my 2 columns on kombucha-making & second fermenting in the 11-9-2022 & 11-16-2022 Clarion editions.)


In a large pot add: 10 cups of filtered water, .5 tablespoon of fresh organic ginger root, .5 tablespoon of organic licorice root, 1 teaspoon of organic dandelion root, 1.5 teaspoons of birch bark and 1 star of anise pod. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 1.5 tablespoons of sassafras root bark, simmer for 15 more minutes and turn off heat.

Stir in 1 Cup, or less, of local honey, pure maple syrup or coconut sugar, until dissolved. Allow to completely cool to room temperature (around 2 hours). Strain well and stir in 2 Cups of your homemade, fresh-brewed, unflavored kombucha. Pour into flip-top bottles, leaving a half inch of space at the tops. Ferment at room temperature, in a cupboard (out of direct sunlight or covered with a towel) for 2-5 days, then chill in the refrigerator for 3 days before opening, to allow the carbonation to set (if you can wait that long!).

Experiment with the recipe. Add 1 tsp. organic vanilla extract for a creamy root beer, and a pinch of organic ground cloves to add some spice. More ingredients you can add, or substitute for others are, organic: winter green leaves, sarsaparilla root, burdock root, a cinnamon stick, juniper berries and a spoonful of molasses for the traditional root beer coloring.

Be Well and God Bless You.

Jennifer Wimmer

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