Root beer is a traditional North American drink made using sassafras bark or sarsaparilla. Both sassafras and sarsaparilla have been used historically in teas that were valued for medicinal purposes including treatment for gout, arthritis, indigestion and other ailments. Needless to say, these days root beer is not considered to possess such properties.
Charles Elmer Hires, a pharmacist, was the first person to successfully market a commercial brand of root beer in 1875. He came up with the name “root beer” (as an alternative to root tea) to appeal to the local coal miners.
A traditional method for making root beer involves cooking a syrup of molasses and water, cooling it and combining it with the root ingredients (including sassafras root and bark as well as wintergreen). Once yeast is added, the drink is left to ferment for 12 hours before being strained, bottled, and left to ferment some more. Other ingredients used in early production of root beer were allspice, birch bark, coriander, juniper, ginger, wintergreen, hops, burdock root, dandelion root, wild cherry bark, yellow dock, prickly ash bark, vanilla beans, molasses, and licorice, to name a few.
These days you can buy all-natural root beer concentrate and try this recipe, if you are looking for a slightly less involved way to make your own root beer at home.