Tag Archives: sassafras

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Today’s featured ingredient.

23 Jul

I’ve written a bit on Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, and Gentian within the context of a few recipes, but I have yet to highlight licorice (sometimes spelled liquorice), a common ingredient in all my root beer recipes thus far.  I use it because it adds a potent sweetness to an otherwise sour and bitter combination of herbs.  The amount of licorice in my root beer recipes is probably not going to affect you in a therapeutic dosage kind of way, but it’s interesting to look at it’s effects in the body anyway:

A member of the legume family, the dried root is best gathered in late autumn.  It’s commonly used to soothe bronchial problems such as coughs and bronchitis and is also used for symptoms of stomach distress such as colic, acid stomach, and ulcers.  It’s general actions are expectorant (makes coughs productive), demulcent (soothes mucus membranes), anti-inflammatory (sometimes indicated for disorders like eczema), adrenal agent (boosts the adrenals:  sometimes used in glandular problems such as Addison’s disease), antispasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms), and mildly laxative.

One of the chemicals derived from licorice, glycyrrhizinic acid, is used in Japan for the treatment of hepatitis, and it is commonly extracted for use as a sweetener.  Most commercial licorice candy is usually made with more aniseed than actual licorice.

Because of the way licorice affects cortisol metabolism in the kidney ie. for the same reason it is good for people with Addison’s disease, it is contraindicated for people who have hypertension.  Excessive use of licorice can deplete potassium levels in your body.

licorice root, compliments of naturalherbsguide.com

More Root Beer: an improvement on a theme.

19 Jul

A while ago, I posted a recipe for root beer that contains licorice and sassafras.  This one is decent and nice if you want to keep your ingredients to a minimum, but I was a little unhappy with the licorice overpowering the brew.  Here is my new improved recipe, which calls on a third herb:  sarsaparilla.

Simmer for 20 minutes:

4 c of water

2T dried sassafras root

1t dried licorice root 

2 t dried sarsaparilla root

Let this mixture steep and cool off for about 20 minutes more, then strain it into a 2 quart or slightly larger jar.  Add:

1/3 c evaporated cane syrup (sucanot or rapadura) 

1/3 c maple syrup

4 more cups water

Test the temp.  You should be able to touch the water comfortably– if it’s too hot you will kill your tibicos!  Traditionally they talk about the brew being blood warm or milk-warm.  Add:

1/2 c water kefir grains

Cover your jar with a towel to allow air to come in and flies to stay out.  Leave it out of the way for 2 days, stirring occasionally if you remember.  After two days, taste the brew to make sure it’s fermented enough to your liking.  If you want, leave it another day.  When it tastes ready, bottle it.  Leave the sealed bottles out at room temperature for a day or so, then drink or store in the fridge.  Don’t leave them at room temp too long or they will explode with fizz when you open them!

 

Root Beer with Moxie: recipe updated on 6/9/12

14 May

Happy post-Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!  One of  my most poignant memories of Mother’s Day is the year when my father came home from a mysterious morning mission with a new puppy.  He climbed up the stairs, puppy in arms, and my mom woke up to a soft, slobbery pink tongue on her cheek.  This was a dog with a lot of spunk right from the get-go, so we named her Moxie.

Moxie is also a soda that originates from Maine– I don’t know of anywhere beyond New England where you can find it.

Moxie Soda gets it’s characteristic flavoring from gentian root.

In my quest to find awesome combinations of root beer, I decided to experiment with gentian root, the primary flavor of Moxie.  The following recipe creates a satisfyingly bittersweet/sour brew

Combine:

4 c water

1 tsp gentian root

1 tsp licorice root

1 tsp sarsaparilla root 

2 T sassafras root

The roots in water, ready to be simmered

in a medium saucepan.  Simmer the combination for 20 minutes, and then allow it to steep for another half hour.  Strain the roots out and pour the resulting tea into a 2 quart sized jar.  Add:

1/3 c maple syrup

1/3 c sucanot (evaporated cane syrup).

4 c water at room temperature.  

Make sure that the resulting blend is cool enough that you can touch it comfortably, ala “blood warm.” so that you don’t kill your culture.  When it is cool enough, add:

1/2 c water kefir grains.

Stir, and cover with a cloth so that the mixture can breathe, but flies can’t get in.  Allow to sit for 2 days, stirring a couple times a day if you remember.  Before this brew is fully fermented, it is almost repulsively bitter, but I find it delicious when finished.  My boyfriend thinks it is still too bitter now.  If this is the case for you, play with reducing the amount of gentian root and increasing the amount of licorice for sweetness or dandelion for a more neutral taste.   After two days, bottle the mixture and let it build up pressure in the bottles for another day.  Don’t let it build up too much fizz, or you will lose half your drink when you open the bottles!  Then, store in the fridge until you are ready to drink.

Right after bottling: I poured the brew into two bottles and reserved a little to consume right away. The bottles sat out another day to build up more bubbles.

About Gentian Root (Gentiana lutea):

The following information is sourced from the New Holisitic Herbal by David Hoffman, which was recommended to me by the girl at Flower Power, where I bought my gentian root and my sarsaparilla.

Gentian Root,is a bitter which, like all bitters, stimulates the appetite and digestion via a stimulation of digestive juices, including saliva (sialagogue), gastric juices, and bile (cholagogue).  It is helpful for balancing a sluggish digestive system and lack of appetite.  Sluggish digestion symptoms that gentian is useful for include dyspepsia and flatulence.

Gentian flower.

About Sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis):  

Sarsaparilla is often used as a general tonic to improve overall function in the body.  It is indicated for skin irritation, particularly psoriasis, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.

Sarsaparilla, image borrowed from foundinthefells.com

Root Beer, and how many times can you say “Sassafras”

4 May

Probably my favorite thing to make with water kefir, so far, is root beer.  It’s a simple twist on the basic kefir recipe ( see my “Tibicos!” post): it’s just made with an herbal tea instead of just plain water.  This recipe is adapted from Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast.  She uses birch syrup in her recipe.  I imagine birch syrup to have some kind of wintergreen-like taste to it, like when you scratch the bark of a black birch and smell the sap of it.  Unfortunately, birch syrup is impossible to come by on the East Coast as far as I’ve seen,  and it’s very expensive to order from Alaska.  I use maple instead.

The licorice taste tends to overpower the sassafras in the following recipe, so most recently I tried omitting the licorice and using  3 T sassafras.  The resulting sassafras beer is much less sweet, more tangy and bitter.  Also quite satisfying.  You might play with your own herbal ratio.  Also, check out latest root beer recipe, using sarsaparilla.

Simmer for 20 minutes:

4 c of water

2T dried sassafras root

1T dried licorice root.

Let this mixture cool to a “blood warm” temperature.  You should be able to touch the water comfortably– if it’s too hot you will kill your tibicos!  Strain out the herbs, put the tea you just made into a 2 quart jar, then add

1/3 c evaporated cane syrup (sucanot or rapadura) 

1/3 c maple syrup

4 cups water

1/2 c water kefir grains

Cover your jar with a towel to allow air to come in and flies to stay out.  Leave it out of the way for 2 days, stirring occasionally if you remember.  After two days, taste the brew to make sure it’s fermented enough to your liking.  If you want, leave it another day.  When it seems ready, bottle it.  Leave the sealed bottles out at room temperature for a day or so, then drink, or store in the fridge.  Don’t leave them at room temp too long or they will explode with fizz when you open them!

About Sassafras:

Sassafras is a common woodland deciduous shrub.  It grew all over in Rhode Island, where I grew up, and it’s very easy to distinguish by it’s leaves with three fingers.  I used to love to pick a leaf and smell it while on my daily hikes in the woods when I was a kid.  The sap of the leaves has a fresh, tangy smell that apparently acts as a natural insect repellent to protect the plant.

Today I looked it up in Medicinal And Other Uses of North American Plants by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown.  The book looks at herbalism as sited throughout history.  According to this source, sassafras also goes by the names:  saxafras, saloop, ague tree, cinnamon-wood, and smelling tree.  It was use by the Iroquois as a tonic– as a blood purifier, to heal venereal diseases, for rheumatism, after childbirth, and as a diuretic. It’s also considered a particularly good herb to use for purification in the spring.

Leaves of the sassafras. I pilfered this picture from sassafrasgrove.com

Despite all this wonderfulness, you won’t see sassafras in the ingredient list of any root beer you buy.  It was banned from root beers and teas in 1960.  Why?  One component in the oil of the sassafras plant is safrole.  There was a cancer study done, and when as much as .5 to 1 percent of their food was safrole, rats developed liver cancer.  (Never mind that safrole is also present in cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg).  Safrole is chemically related to myristicine and asaraone and is suspected of being hallucinogenic in large doses.  Wikipedia has an interesting write up on the stuff.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safrole.  I imagine it might not be a great idea to drink sassafras essential oil or isolated safrole, but it’s interesting how a study on an isolated substance has come to demonize this one whole food that contains it.  It’s also interesting how a lab study curbed the popularity of sassafras, but we can still sell and eat Sweet and Low to our hearts’ content, so long as there is a label warning us that it could cause cancer.

In spite of the sassafras ban, it is still possible to buy the dried root at herbal stores.  I don’t know why that’s ok and putting it in a tea bag is not, but I won’t complain.  In Manhattan you can get it at Flower Power on East 9th street, Integral Yoga Natural Apothecary on West 13 st, and Dual Specialty store on 1st ave in the East Village.  I’m sure there are other places, too.

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