Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter, fondly recalls drinking A&W root beer as a child with his parents.
“The big frosty mugs – I loved root beer,” he said.
Recently, Kilham had the opportunity to go on a foraging tour with Steve ‘Wildman’ Brill through Central Park in New York City – and the two went looking for sassafras, one of the main ingredients in root beer.
According to Brill, sassafras is a tree that has three leaves and three lobes.
“It can’t tolerate the shade, so it makes hundreds of safflings, all of which die unless they’re in full sunlight, so it’s renewable,” he said. “And we can pull out the root, which is what we want.”
Also, Brill added, sassafras is a natural liver detoxifier, which the Native Americans were known for using.
Scientists did a population study in Kentucky where people have been drinking sassafras tea since the days of the pioneers, according to Brill.
The people who drank sassafras had lower rates of liver cancer than people who did not. This was matched by age, sex, race and income.
Brill said you can dig up the sassafras root and once you wash it off, boil it for 20 minutes on low heat.
“It makes a delicious herb tea,” Brill said. “Chill the tea, add some chilled sparkling water and a sweetener; stir it together – and you’ve got your root beer. And what I’ve discovered is you can scrape off this outer layer called the cambia, and use it as a culinary seasoning.”