Foraging for the root that made A& W Root Beer famous is a family hobby. We love the taste and smell of Sassafras tea in the spring time. In our small West Virginia cottage, tea is a staple of life. I prefer it cold with a little sugar but it is also nice as a hot tea with honey. Sassafras is a wild tree/bush that is almost considered a weed or filth in the Appalachian mountains. Farmers regularly mow the bushes down for pasture weed control. So to find sassafras you just need to look along road sides and abandoned fields.
This batch of roots, that Tom gathered, came from his Highway Crew. They have been removing dead trees from an area in our state that was hit hard by a fall storm and they needed to remove several damaged and dying Sassafras Trees in order to clear a section of the road. Tom brought home a couple of pounds of roots and I took the smallest and youngest to make tea. As you can see in the following photo the roots have a sliver skin cover on them, then a red bark that is covering a white root. The silver skin is the only thing that needs removed when making tea. The red bark gives the tea its color and the white root adds the flavor.
After cleaning and removing the silver skin of the roots, you need a pot large enough to boil the roots in.I personaly use a 10 quart stock pot.It easily makes a gallon of tea with lots of room to spare.
Into this stock pot I put about a gallon of water. Then I add 4 or 5 roots and boil. The time to make a tea is around 30 minutes to 40 minutes depending on how strong you want the flavor. Tom loves the “root beer” flavor so we boil ours about 40 minutes. The hot tea is then poured through cheese cloth and a strainer and sugar added to the pitcher. I use 3/4 cup of white sugar to every gallon if tea. Mix well and chill the tea several hours and or add ice.
The roots dry on a dishtowle and are reused several times. We boil them at least three times and the favor,color and scent remains the same every time. One of the benefits to making this tea is the wonderful aroma that fills the house. The sweet scent of root beer fills the house within minutes of setting the roots on the counter, then intensifies with a rolling boil on the stove. Two pounds of roots lasts us for about two months as we drink the tea slowly. On the plus side this tea contains no caffeine and the tea needs less sugar. Sassafras has no bitterness or acidic flavors to cover up. So for a foraged, cold or warm drink that teases great, I think that is worth digging up a few roots every year.
Hope that the next time you are thinking a cold glass of tea to sip on the porch, you will consider trying Sassafras tea as great way to cool off and enjoy the wonderful gift that nature has given us.