Roots, Berries, Bark & Flowers: An Old-fashioned Recipe for Root Beer

There’s an old-fashioned charm to homemade root beer with its odd array of roots and bark, flowers, leaves and berries.  It, like many other fermented beverages, once enjoyed position as a staple of American cookery.  Water, as you know, was not always potable and raw milk, small beers, cider, perry and other fermented beverages were consumed as the drink of choice – even for small children.  For a time, each community and each family enjoyed a closely guarded homemade root beer recipe.

While most home brewers now make their root beers from commercially sold root beer concentrates, there’s a certain undeniable charm of brewing root beer the traditional way – slowly simmering a concoction of roots, berries, bark and spices, dissolving a sweetener into the herbaceous brew adding a natural source of yeast, bottling and then simply waiting for the yeast to do its work. (If you’re reading this on email, be sure to click through to view the history of root beer, the safrole controversy, its use in folkloric remedies and, of course, the recipe).


Homemade Root Beer: History

While popular since the colonial era, when European colonists combined the brewing techniques of the old world with wild-crafted ingredients like sassafras.  At the turn of the 20th century, an ingenious pharmacist named Charles Hire, developed a popular root beer mix featuring licorice, birch, juniper, sarsaparilla, hops, sassafras and ginger among other roots, herbs, bark, flowers and berries and through clever marketing and storytelling, his mix grew wildly popular.  An 1891 pamphlet for Hire’s Root Beer, which you can see in the image above as well as in its entirety thanks to the University of Iowa, describes the inspiration for the drink in perfect Victorian-era fancy – detailing the story of Little Mabel who was given the recipe from forest gnomes and fairies.

Hire’s Root Beer was sold and resold before ending up as a holding of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and while the original version, much like my recipe for homemade root beer below, earned its complex flavor by natural means, the version most well-loved by the American public achieves its flavor, color and sweetness by artificial means.

The primary flavor found in any old-fashioned homemade root beer recipe is sassafras, a deciduous tree native to North America.  The characteristic sweet flavor comes from the tree’s roots, thus giving us the name root beer. Incidentally, the tree’s leaves give us file powder which is the essential thickening agent in classic gumbo.  Now of course, the primary flavor we associate with root beer is that of wintergreen, not of sassafras.

Homemade Root Beer & the Safrole Controversy

Wintergreen leaf, though almost always an ingredient in most traditional root beer recipes, replaced sassafras as the prominent flavor in root beer during the 1960s when a study conducted on lab animals implicated safrole, a naturally occurring polyphenol, in liver cancer.  Of course, the lab rats were fed massive quantities of safrole – the human equivalent of consuming about 32 twelve-ounce bottles of root beer a day. After the study was released, the FDA required commercial soft drink makers to remove sassafras from their brews. Of course, cinnamon, nutmeg and basil also contain safrole but this seemed to escape the attention of the FDA.

Interestingly, while massive quantities of safrole caused liver cancer in lab animals, it seems that small doses may actually play a protective role for humans.  Some studies indicate that safrole may actually stimulate the death of cancer cells, particularly oral cancers1,2 though it may also do so in lung3 and prostrate4 cancers.

Wintergreen, already an ingredient in root beer, offered a flavor profile strikingly similar to that of sassafras, and made a ready replacement.  Most root beers made today contain neither sassafras nor wintergreen and are instead made with artificial flavors.  Even wintergreen extract, the preferred flavoring for many home brewers, is difficult to attain and typically is made with propylene glycol – a petrochemical.

As for me, it seems that everything is a medicine and everything is a poison; it’s all about dosage.  So when I make my root beer, I’ll take my chances with a tiny amount of safrole in natural sassafras and avoid the propylene glycol in synthetic flavorings.

Homemade Root Beer & Folkloric Remedies

Homemade root beer recipes, despite the safrole controversy, contain many herbs and spices considered medicinal in folkloric medicine.  And while each homemade root beer recipe differs from the next, it is their consistencies that illustrate the power of traditional cooking and herbal medicine.  Now more or less obsolete in natural and herbal medicine, sassafras was traditionally used as a diuretic and thought to cleanse the blood and promote skin health., which may account for Charles Hire’s claim that his brew purified the blood and made for rosy cheeks.

Sarsaparilla, similarly, was typically used to beautify the complexion and as a diuretic.  Traditionally, wintergreen leaf was used as a carminative – that is, it was thought to prevent gas and to ease digestion, and it was also typically used to ease the pain of sciatic and epidydimitis.  Licorice root, similarly, was used in folkloric medicine for its ability to ease digestive distress and some clinical evidence suggests it can be beneficial in the treatment of ulcers.  Other herbs and ingredients typically used in homemade root beer: ginger, dandelion, hops, birch have also featured widely in traditional herbal medicine.

Sourcing Ingredients for Homemade Root Beer

Preparing a true homemade root beer from scratch is simple.  You begin by steeping herbs and spices in hot water, and when it has cooled to blood warm – that is, it’s neither hot nor cool to the touch – you mix in sweetener, starter culture such as fresh whey, or a yeasty batch of ginger bug or, as I prefer, kefir starter culture which makes a superb base for homemade sodas and probiotic tonics and is blessedly convenient to store and keep.  This mixture is then bottled and allowed to sit and ferment for a few days before its ready.

The work you put into your homemade root beer is minimal indeed, but finding the ingredients can prove challenging.  Licorice root, sassafras and sarsaparilla aren’t readily stocked even by the best spice shops and natural food stores. I order my roots, spices, herbs and bark online in bulk at affordable prices from Mountain Rose Herbs – a reputable online source of organic and sustainably wild-crafted herbs and spices.  Save wintergreen which I special ordered from our local health food store, they stock all the ingredients used for this old-fashioned homemade root beer recipe.

Roots, Berries, Bark & Flowers: An Old-fashioned Recipe for Root Beer

Roots, Berries, Bark & Flowers: An Old-fashioned Recipe for Root Beer

Seasoned with sassafras, winter green, sarsaparilla and eight other herbs and spices, amassing the ingredients for this classic homemade root beer recipe can prove challenging. I recommend purchasing from Mountain Rose Herbs which stocks even the most obscure wild-crafted and organic herbs and spices.


  • 1/4 cup sassafras root bark
  • 1/4 cup winter green leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon licorice root
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon dandelion root
  • 1 tablespoon hops flowers
  • 1 tablespoon birch bark
  • 1 tablespoon wild cherry tree bark
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup ginger bug (get the tutorial), fresh whey or 1 packet kefir starter culture (available here)


  1. Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, licorice, ginger, hops, juniper, birch and wild cherry bark. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and simmer the roots, berries, barks, leaves and flowers for twenty minutes.
  2. After twenty minutes, turn off the heat and strain the infusion through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a pitcher. Stir unrefined cane sugar into the hot infusion until it dissolves and allow it to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Once the sweetened infusion has cooled to blood temperature, stir in the ginger bug or fresh whey and pour into individual bottles (preferably flip-top bottles which are easy enough to find online, leaving at least one inch head space in each bottle.
  3. Allow the root beer to ferment for three to four days at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for an additional two days to age. When you’re ready to serve the root beer, be careful as it, like any other fermented beverage, is under pressure due to the accumulation of carbon-dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. Open it over a sink and note that homemade sodas, like this one, have been known to explode under pressure. Serve over ice

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What people are saying

  1. Todd says

    I love root beer and have always wanted to make my own, I have a a bbq in a few months and think root beer will go well with it so I will be using this recipe to make some for then. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Kari says

      Megan-I haven’t done this, but based on what I’ve read elsewhere, I think you would make the concoction and allow it to cool to room temp in a canning jar, leaving plenty of air space at the top. Then put your grains in for 24 to 48 hours. Remove your grains, bottle your root beer as described above, and allow the cultures left behind to second ferment for 24 to 72 hours. The longer it ferments, the higher the alcohol content though.

        • Mike says

          There are two different kinds of kefir grains, water kefir and milk kefir… although I heard they can be interchanged but require time to adapt.
          The water kefir are what you want, they will also stay together unlike yeast which can unsettle. There are many directions on how to use them, they should come with instructions when you purchase them.
          I have used milk kefir but never water kefir. I have heard it used for ginger ale and may possibly be the original ‘plant’ in ginger beer plant.

  2. joy says

    thank you so much for all the work you do on your blog. you don’t post as often as many other blogs but each and every one of your posts is full of useful and interesting information. i appreciate quality more than quantity.

    regarding this recipe, i’d like to make it but i have no familiarity with the flavor of most of these roots, herbs, etc. if this was a recipe for cooking, with most herbs and spices i could easily decide which flavorings could be left out but i’m at a loss here. i will need to order from mountain rose herbs and pay for international shipping so i don’t want to get anything which isn’t necessary. are there any ingredients that could be left out in a pinch? what is absolutely essential for the rootbeer flavor?

    • jenny says

      No. I don’t recommend xylitol as it is not a natural sweetener. You can add stevia to the mix, if you’re using the green herb and not the white powder or liquid which are also heavily processed. Plus, the bacteria and yeasts responsible for fermentation of the root beer need sugar or fermentation will not occur.

      • says

        The real trouble with xylitol here is that it is bacteriostatic. Your brew won’t ferment.. while this can be added after the fermentation process to increase the sweetness, and it truly its good for your teeth, it cannot be added til after the fermentation phase.

  3. Nick says

    I went to Mountain Rose Herbs and they have a sassafras Root, Indian or Jamaican. Which one am I supposed to use?

    • says

      You are referring to sarsaparilla, which is not the same herb at all. The sarsaparilla gives it a foamier head and adds additional detoxifying medicinal properties. Any smilax sp. Root on the herb market should be fine. I am also interested in hearing about any distinctions between the two. Also, it is likely that there are suitable smilax species in your area. Does anyone know if Aralias are ever used in these brews?

      • says

        I believe that the Jamaican sarsaparilla is the species traditionally used. I used smilax medica to make a few brews before I figured this out and they didn’t turn out very good.

  4. Nick says

    I also need to know which Cinnamon Sticks, the Sweet or Cassia. They are sold out of some of the ingredients. Do you have a back up web site to get these ingredients from?

    • Moses says

      The flavor profile sounds very good & authentic. Thanks for the source of the hard to find ingredients. Although fermenting root beer may be the way it was first made, that creates a flavor I DON’T enjoy. Essentially, you’re making root beer flavored kombucha. Kombucha is an acquired taste. I’ll probably just marry traditional & natural flavors with a modern source of carbonation from a home soda maker.

      • Marty says

        If you don’t like the flavor of the kefir, you can use yeast. My brewer recommended champagne yeast. It will taste more like what you are used to buying at the store but the roots will be more flavorful. When you use a yeast reduce the fermentation time to one or two days at room temperature. I like to fill one plastic soda bottle as my tester. I leave all the bottles out until the plastic bottle is too tight to squeeze. Then I put all the bottles in the fridge. I was tempted to try an ale yeast but was warned that ale yeasts go too quickly through all that sugar and could cause the bottles to explode.

        • says

          This advice is kind of troubling because it’s more or less the opposite of true. Different yeasts attenuate to different degrees – which is to say, they devour a different percentage of available sugars… which can be, depending on the yeast and the amount of sugar in your root beer wort, between 65% and 85%. Champagne yeast is generally around 75%, which is at the high end of the middle. With a moderately-attenuating ale yeast like Danstar Windsor, you should have similar results.

          The major difference is that each type of yeast prefers to eat different types of sugar… and champagne yeast is particularly happy eating simple sugars, like table sugar. The main reason I can see to use champagne yeast is that it should generate less yeast flavors than an ale yeast, which can contribute “cidery” flavors when consuming straight sugar.

      • Terri says

        Hmmm … not like kombucha at all I don’t think – kombucha is fermented real black and/or green tea (Camellia sinensis) and sugar – and has an entirely different flavor profile. Sounds to me much more like a kefir with extra flavoring… or ginger beer with extra flavoring.

    • Erik says

      By “sweet”, I assume you mean Ceylon cinnamon. While I have no experience with rootbeer, I would only go with Ceylon. Cassia may have very high levels of coumarin and European countries are warning their citizens of the health dangers of too much coumarin – it may cause liver damage in sensitive individuals. Check the internet for more information.

  5. Shan S. says

    Dandelion Botanical Company in Seattle has an online shop.
    I’ve bought ingredients for a different root beer recipe there as well as
    homemade bitters.
    Tenzing Mo Mo at like Place and Sugar Pill in Seattle also carry walls filled with
    herbs and such.

  6. Carrie says

    I tried this recipe, using Body Ecology Kefir Starter and the Root Beer never fizzed. Now I wonder if I should have used Water Kefir Grains.

    • Jenny says

      Definitely *DON’T* use water kefir grains as the antimicrobial properties of the herbs may negatively affect them. Ginger bug will also work very well. It’s possible that your starter was a dud (it happens, but not often with BED cultures).

  7. Marilyn says

    Two questions: can honey be substituted for the sugar? and, what the heck is a “ginger bug”? Oh… wait… it, too, is made with sugar.

    • Basil says

      I’ve used honey every time I brew ginger beer and for my ginger bug starter and it works great. I’m just starting to play around with adding other various herbs and barks used in root beer to my ginger beer brew to get a sense of their individual flavors, so I can personalize my own recipe. I have also tried adding powdered ginseng with positive results. Thanks for the great list of ingredients, I’ve wanted to make root beer since I was a little boy.

      • Robert says

        I am looking to make ginger beer and looking for a good recipe to start with. So many on the internet.
        Basil: would you be willing to share or point to a recipe online?

    • melissa says

      The sugar is what is used for fermentation. As in other fermented drinks such as kombucha or water kefir, the sugar is eaten up during the fermentation so you do not need to be concerned that you are consuming a bunch of sugar.

      • Marilyn says

        I do understand that the sugar MAY be used up in the fermentation. The problem is that I, and many others, do not tolerate sucrose, and if ANY is left in the fermented mix, it can make us ill. The idea of going to all this work only to spend hours in the bathroom being vilely ill from unfermented sucrose is not entertaining. I’ve had it happen. That is why I cannot use kombucha or water kefir, even though I would like to.

        • John H. says

          I’m not sure what the SUCrose sensitivity is, but there are other fermentable sugars that don’t need to be SUCrose, like GLUcose and others I’d guess. I can be sent to the toilet by LACtose as well as various live cultures like those those in the recipe…I’m thinking of making the recipe with a lot less sugar and NOT fermenting it but force-carbonating it. longer storage and less tummy upsetting!

  8. Jake says

    I was anxious to try this recipe as it seemed to be “back to the roots” in regards to root beer. I obtained all the ingredients from my local herb shop, bought some kefir starter culture from a health food store, and finally gathered together my bottles. I fixed me some root beer and let it sit for the allotted time.
    I’m not sure what this is suppose to taste like, but it was a little to “rooty” for me. By this I mean, it down-right tasted like I was drinking strained root water that has been sat out to mold.
    I think I will stick to the root beer extract method. Thank you for the information regarding the origins of root beer however.

  9. says

    please how would i know sassafras root bark, winter green leaf, sarsaparilla root, dandelion root, hops flowers, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, birch bark, licorice root. And where can i get it? Or is there any ingredients apart of this mention above

  10. kyle marker says

    hey i want to make old fashion root beer and sell it, do u think this is a good way to mass produce it by doing it this way or just make pocket money?

      • Laura says

        In the study that linked sassafras with cancer (and subsequent banning by the FDA), the lab rats were fed ARTIFICIAL safrole. So basically it only proved that artificial safrole is toxic. Natural safrole in sassafras root may well be totally different. It’s important to note that the study was done over 50 years ago, and nowadays we realize that artificial is not the same as natural…

  11. Joseph Newman says

    Is there a way to adapt thus awesome recipe to have more alcohol, making it into a root BEER? I’ve been looking for a recipe like this for a long time, but in earnest the last few days. I’m interested in seeing what you have to say.

    • Jeffrey H. says

      To add to Jenny’s point (posted below), when beer ferments the active yeast will consume mostly all the sugar content (save some of the more complex carbon structures) leaving you with only ethyl alcohol, C02 and other byproducts. This ‘full’ fermentation phase will leave you with a not-so-sweet beverage. Some ales will be sweeter than beer (Lager, Pilsener) due to constraints with the different varieties of yeast and the yeasts ability to withstand higher levels of alcohol.
      If you wish to make any beverage with higher alcohol content you must make sure, first of all, that you have an appropriate yeast to match the desired products potential results. I would try to use a champagne yeast to accomplish this because you will end up with a higher ABV but the champagne yeast will begin to die out around 4-5%. Second, consider how sweet you would like the finished product (I assume you would want some sweetness in your root BEER) and keep in mind that you have to cut fermentation short if the sugar content begins to reash your desired flavor profile.
      I intend on starting a series of test batches for a strong root beer (5-6%) and I will let you know if I have much success. I expect I will.

      • Gregory Bodenham says

        I made homemade root beer the start time and I used champagne yeast. My question is how do you open the bottle with out the root beer shooting out the top of the bottle even after you crack the cap to let the gas to escape ?

      • Solomon says

        If you want to let the fermentation go you’ll want to do it in a container with an airlock, not in bottles. This will allow the carbon dioxide to escape instead of exploding your container. Once fermentation is complete, you will have a non-carbonated non-sweet beverage. You can kill the yeast by adding potassium metabisulfite then add some additional sugar, but with no yeast you’ll have no way to carbonate it. You would have to keg it and let pressurized CO2 do the carbonating for you. If you want to go a bit more natural, you could add some lactose to the root beer after fermentation is complete. You would need to experiment with the quantity according to taste. Lactose is milk sugar and is not fermentable so the yeasties won’t touch it. You can then add a small amount of priming sugar to the batch (3/4 cup per 5 gallons) and bottle. The yeast will eat this last little bit of fermentable sugar and do you carbonating for you.

        • Chef Ransom says

          You can back sweeten the fully fermented brew before bottling to both carbonate and sweeten without having to add a chemical fermentation stopper or pressurizing with CO2. Just takes a little extra effort.

          Add sugar or other sweetener to the fully fermented brew so that it is a little sweeter than you want. (You’re restarting fermentation here so you can’t use artificial sweeteners with this method.) Then bottle it, making at least one bottle a plastic soda bottle. After a few days (3 to 7 days) the soda bottle should be very firm, like a new unopened soda.

          Now you have to stop fermentation in order to prevent the yeast from eating all the sugar so you retain sweetness and have the carbonation level you’re looking for, without over-carbonating into gusher bottles.

          You can either “cold crash” them in the fridge to put the yeast into hibernation, or heat pasteurize them. Heat pasteurization can only be done on glass bottles and does have some risk of breakage if you’re not careful. But the advantage is that it will kill the yeast and allow you to store the bottles at room temp for a long time.

          To heat pasteurize bring a 2 gallon pot of water to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, use a thermometer to be exact, then take pot OFF THE HEAT. Carefully add the bottles to the pot, cover, let them sit for 10 minutes. Remove them from the pot and cool to room temp. NEVER heat bottles on the stove. Only ever place them into hot water after removing the pot from the heat.

          Like I said this can be risky, glass and hot water and pressure, but if you are careful you can have a sweet beverage that was naturally carbonated. I do this with my hard cider all the time.

          Be safe and enjoy!

  12. Erica says

    If we shouldn’t use water kefir in this, what kefir starter are you suggesting? I’m only familiar with dairy and water kefirs. Would taking water already fermented with water kefir and then boiling it with the roots work? And then put it in the bottles and cover? I usually put my flavorings in my kefir after fermentation, except a bit of ginger and some fruit sometimes.

  13. jan ellis says

    I used Frontier herbs for the recipe and man did this mixture ever turn out bitter! Ended up throwing it out. Any ideas what might have gone wrong?

    • Kat says

      I used a recipe with sassafras root that doesn’t call for fermentation, since it creates a syrupy “concentrate” that seltzer water can be added to. Check out imbibe magazine July/August issue. If not, I can post the recipe. Be forewarned that sassafras is hard to find due to the fact that it has carcinogenic properties, and yields an earthier taste than sarsaparilla, I added a vanilla bean pod to my recipe when jarring it.

      • Maryanne says

        Yes! I would love to try the concentrate, too. I went online and found the reference, but Imbibe doesn’t give a link to the root beer recipe.

      • Me says

        Clearly, you didn’t read the post, Kat or you would know that sassafras wasn’t proved to be carcinogenic!
        And why are you all here if you just want fake rootbeer? THIS post is for TRUE fermeted rootbeer that retains its probiotics cultures to promote good health. Sheesh!

  14. Genevieve says

    Just made some of this, minus wintergreen, cherry and birch bark as I couldn’t get them. I tasted the mix before the kefir and it was pretty good I think the only bitter was the hops which I don’t mind and can only add to the finished product. I just had a question of how you know it is working? Is it supposed to bubble a little or look malty? I’m on the second day and I want to make another batch, 4 bottles is not enough! But just wondering how I know if I did it right as my attempts at making booze are decent but I can never get yogurt to set lol

  15. Grace says

    I don’t like sugar at all. What is the absolute minimum amount of sugar needed for fermentation? How does beer ferment without sugar? The entire reason I want to make homemade soda is because all the ones available in the health food stores are way too sweet for me. So when I saw your response to another commenter about it needing sugar I was SO BUMMED!!!

    • jenny says

      Beer ferments without sugar because the wheat/barley/malt that goes into beer is full of naturally occurring sugars which support fermentation; herbs are not similarly full of sugars, so you need to support fermentation by adding a sugar source. If you don’t like it too sweet – you can start with half as much, or ferment it longer and the microbes will eat all the sugar.

  16. says

    I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

  17. Jude Albright says

    Thank you for the recipe. I didn’t like the final result at all. It did not taste like root beer, it tasted like a weird, old tonic. It was bitter and too sweet at the same time.

  18. Serge says

    I was in mid-process of making this root beer, when I noticed that the dandelion root and cinnamon stick listed as ingredients are not listed in any of the preparation directions… I just added them in with the other roots and things in step one. Just wanting to make sure that’s right (maybe update the directions). Thank you.

  19. Sarah says

    Thank you for the wonderful information. Now I am wondering how long can the root beer be stored? And if the root beer is removed from the fridge after the 2 days, will it ferment further or will the cold spell stop fermentation?

  20. pierre pandy says

    I want to use my raw sugar cane juice as a replacement for the sugar and ginger bug because the juice comes with its own lactic acid. Have you ever tried anything like this?

  21. Michelle says

    Hi Jenny, I tried a batch of root beer using a commercial root beer extract, so I have some champagne yeast at home and want to try your recipe using the yeast. When and how would I add the yeast to your recipe? Thanks!

      • Michelle says

        No, I never did. By now I’ve gone ahead and used it (the champagne yeast) and it seemed to work fine. I have been trying different combinations of the herbs/roots, some batches have been more successful than others.

  22. catharine says

    does the yeast and the hops make it alcoholic?? I cannot drink beer or wine or any alcoholic beverage but I noticed i’m seeing things that I would typically see in actual beers instead of the yummy nonalcoholic rootbeer everyone loves. So is this a legit Beer recipe or a yummy homemade version of the rootbeer we all love?

    • charlei says

      Old sodas and root beers were made the same way that beers were, but the difference is that they are fermented for a shorter period of time so the amount of alcohol they might produce is so negligible they would be considered non-alcoholic by any standards. These drinks are made this way though because they began as health tonics and as drinks to replace non-potable water – which is the same reason beer, wine, and other drinks were consumed more often than water back when filters and purification was a bit more tedious, difficult, or non-existent.

  23. says

    Hello, I would like to know about the last ingredient in the list. What is “ginger bug”? We are a vegan family and don’t want to use Kiffer. Hoping “ginger bug” is something I can find easily and is vegan! Thanks!

    • charlei says

      ginger bug is made with ginger root and sugar that is allowed to ferment a little.

      but as with all vegetation, animals have fertilized the plant and thus it would not be truly vegan, using animal byproducts and products to produce the end ingredient.

    • Terri says

      The kefir referred to here is water kefir (tibicos) – not the same as milk kefir, and does not contain any dairy or animal products.

  24. ladyboop says

    In the 80’s i was in Maine for a Master Gardeners conference and went to the Organic Festival they have every summer.
    ? I think it is called Common Grounds Organic festival or some thing like that………. Well…. I had the best Birch Beer homemade by a family there it was awesome. I asked for the recipe and was told it was a family heirloom….. I am still looking for the old fashion birch beer recipe…. Any one know of one??

    • John says

      I don’t know of any particular recipe, but if you’re in Maine and they had a Birch beer, it was probably made using Betula lenta. It’s a species of birch native to the East Coast of North America. Wintergreen, or Teaberry, is another popular plant to use, but birch trees were far more common than Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) so I would guess some recipes might include or exclude either or.

    • Ryan says

      Sassafras is not necessarily “poisonous”, as stated in the story before the recipe I believe, it contains safrole, an oil which is a carcinogen (cancer causing agent), but it would only affect humans if you drank 32 12oz servings a day. Also, basil and cinnamon contain safrole as well, but are not banned by the FDA like sassafras. So the minimal amounts of sassafras used in this recipe would almost surely be harmless. Although, if you like store bought root beer, wintergreen is the main flavor in today’s root beer., so omitting sassafras from your recipe you use would be okay if that is the flavor profile you are aiming for.

  25. Brian says

    Agreed with some others here — very bitter, “rooty” (but not in a good way), effectively undrinkable taste. I make many kinds of soda and brew beer, so I’m familiar with these ingredients and the process, but my lady and I really found this recipe quite undesirable. As a lover of craft drink making, I am thinking about ways to modify to make better, but really in the end I’ll end up changing the recipe so much that it wouldn’t be this. Lots of other great recipes out there. Have others had success with and enjoyed this one?

  26. SHARON Z. says


    It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago that the recipes provided by Nourished Kitchen allowed creating a PDF for them. Is this option still possible? I’m not a user of Pinterest or other options and I miss having the so many of the recipes.

  27. Barbara Smith says

    You mention ‘hops’ in the instructions…but the word-“hops”
    is NOT on your list of ingredients…
    Did I miss something?

  28. Jeff C says

    Hops have antimicrobial properties, especially against Gram positive organisms. The lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that are so desirable in a ginger bug and kefir grains are Gram positive and are subject to the antimicrobial properties of hops (a major benefit to brewing in earlier, less sanitary times). So, the hops are good if you’re brewing with just yeast, but leave them out if relying on any semi-defined culture (which ideally contains the beneficial Gram positive LAB).

    Regarding an earlier note- hops do not create alcohol . They are flowers that add bitterness, flavor, aroma, and stability to beer or any other beverage. However, hops do not have antimicrobial activity against yeast, which can produce alcohol and CO2 in anaerobic conditions.

  29. Luke says

    Modifying this recipe to make it drinkable is pretty easy. The Wild Cherry and Licorice roots are what give an overly “herby” taste. Whereas Sassafras and Sasparilla give that wonderful taste we are all used to.

    My advice is to double the amounts of those two ingredients and halve the others and let ferment (I use a ginger bug) for 3-4 days, agitating twice per day, then bottle and refrigerate for a few more. The result is supremely quaffable.

    If you want A&W this is not the recipe for you my a long shot.

  30. Annie says

    The above article says to open your bottles of Root Beer over the sink. I prefer to set the bottle in a large bowl, then I can pour it into a glass and drink it instead of losing down the drain. I’m going to try a batch, using whey. I’v always got some yogurt hanging around that I can strain through a cheesecloth and use the whey from it. Ginger bugs take a week to make and are subject to becoming moldy, and keeping Kefir grains alive has been a challenge for met. I use empty, plastic, screw top, brown kombucha bottles with good results, but under pressure, you need to have a pair of small channellocks or pliers to open them, especially if you have arthritis in your hands. Bail-top beer bottles are also nice if you have the $$$$ to buy them or if you are a beer drinker and can re-use them. Check garage sales! One caution about 1 gallon, glass jugs. Call the manufacturer before buying them and make sure they are lead-free. I was stunned when I looked it up and found out how fast lead begins contaminating beverages and home canned foods. NEVER buy any glass container that you will be using for food or beverages that you do not know is lead-free. Sometimes it may be worth it to buy that gallon jug of pickles and olives just so you know that the jug is lead-free. Leaded glass is outlawed as commercial containers for foods and beverages. Only buy the Ball and Kerr canning jars that are made in the USA. A Canadian company bought out both jar companies and they are having their glass canning jars made at various places, all over the world. ONLY the ones made in the U.S.A. are lead-free. The ones made for freezing have thicker glass, so I recommend those. Also, when I making Kombucha. I use my 1.75 liter electric kettle to boil my water, as I have reverse osmosis water at my tap, so I do not need it to boil for twenty minutes to dissipate impurities. I use two jugs, one for sugar water, just shy of 1/2 of a gallon, and then I make my 1/2 gallon of tea in the other so they cool faster. Make each one, one cup shy of 1/2 gallon so you have form for your scoby and 2 cups of starter liquid. When cool, strain the tea from the leaves, into the sugar water and add the scoby and starter and you’re done. Great shortcut if you have filtered or distilled water. Electric tea kettles are worth their weight in gold for boiling water for almost anything, fast.

  31. Benjamin says

    Hi Jenny,
    This looks great; thanks for sharing it! I live in the bush in central Canada, where we have a number of root-beer ingredients growing wild. I’m wondering if I could more or less use this recipe, but leave out the sassafras & cinnamon. I think I could substitute American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) root or Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) leaves for the licorice root, Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) for the ginger, and previous comments suggest that honey could be substituted for sugar. I’m a beekeeper, so that would mean that I could feasibly make root beer with all home-grown ingredients, other than the whey, which I could get from a neighbour. Are the sassafras and cinnamon essential for the root-beer flavour, and if I left them out, would I have to change proportions of other ingredients?


    • Jenny says

      I think all those would work well for substitutions. The sassafras gives the root beer its characteristic flavor, but so does wintergreen. Cinnamon is not all that essential. PLEASE try it and let us know how it turns out, regardless, it would be authentic to your region, and that’s pretty neat.

  32. Kristin says

    Any other recommendationson where to buy sassafras bark? Mointain Rose Herbs is sold out of all
    sizes:-( Or can I use the powder?

  33. Andrew says

    Your comments on safrole and its presence in cinnamon and basil and black pepper and a few other approved food items is EXCEPTIONALLY misleading and dangerous to your readers and yourself. And the fact that your blog entry shows up in a search for root beer recipes makes it all the more troubling.

    Safrole is present at 90 times the amount in sassafras as it is in cinnamon. 90 times!

    There is absolutely overwhelming scientific evidence that sassafras root specifically is dangerous, and at this point it’s not even stated that safrole is responsible for 100% of that danger because even safrole free extracts are associated with cancer risks in lab animals.

    Do whatever you want with your own health, but when you start suggesting in your blog that sassafras root is as safe as basil, you’re endangering people’s lives.

    • Renee says

      I think he said if your not comfortable using it you can use winter green extract and he said as for me ill take my chances. Read!

    • C.E.Pool says

      Artificial Safrole is a carcinogen – or at least was in the mid 20th century – for overdosed lab rats. While I am a practicing MD, I only have anecdotal evidence for 150 years of regular sassafras root usage with no diagnosed cancers or other untoward effects. My grandparents insisted upon sassafras tea each spring as a tonic, they lived in to their 90’s. Same for my great grandparents, and I cannot attest to more than 3 generations back as far as health, but I know the tradition of spring sassafras tea drinking and dry sassafras leaf usage (file) was in place in the 1850’s in my family.

      Oh, my family also used Basil as well, although we are a mix of Scot-Irish & Louisiana French blood lines – the Basil use may have started with the influx of the Italian immigrants into our communities in the 1910s.

      I attest to sassafras usage – as handed down by the generations of woodscrafters and American Indians and practiced by current ‘country folk’ as being JUST AS SAFE AS BASIL & BLACK PEPPER usage. I also agree that it is a herbal diuretic and would like to keep sassafras root out of the hands of over educated bloggers or research scientists who overdose rats on common items and then extrapolate fear into the general population.

      Please don’t think I mean disrespect for your opinion, you are entitled. But you pointedly were disrespectful of someone else’s opinion citing “absolutely overwhelming scientific evidence that sassafras root specifically is dangerous”, something I find erroneous after reading the scientific literature. I would think – and in my diet it is true – that black pepper usage in yearly quantities is some 100x greater than the use of sassafras root derived drinks.

      Remember folks, garbage in, garbage out. Beware anyone’s strong opinions against things in moderation when wholistic traditions have embraced those things for generations.

  34. Julia says

    I tried High Country brand “Wild Root” flavored kombucha, which contains essentially the same ingredients as you have for your root beer. Do you have ANY thoughts on how to add in the herbs for a second ferment to make the “Root beer” kombucha?


  35. Joseph Poplaski says

    After day two my three jars of ginger bug were working really well bubbling a lot , after adding more ingredient for the third time, two of them stopped bubbling and after thefourth day they all stopped bubbling. Did I kill them? Will using.the same spoon to mix them contaminate each other some how? I followed the directions above exactly.

  36. Kassia B. says

    Hi, I was wondering if you could provide the weight measurements needed for each ingredients? Everything is sold by weight online and I don’t want to order too little of each herb or end up with tons of extra.

  37. Danike P. says

    I have severe tree allergies do you know if you can make this without the tree barks? Or would that completely defeat the purpose?

  38. Brent says

    This recipe looks wonderful, I like the idea of fermenting with something other than yeast, just to try it out. I’ve always used yeast in the past. I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to share the ingredient list in grams rather than volumes? It would be very helpful :). Thanks for the great recipe and blog!

  39. says

    I just wanted to note that, if you’re having a hard time finding wintergreen, I was able to find it at my local brewing supply store. It’s not organic or wild-crafted — it’s Brewer’s Best brand, 1oz. package — but it was nearby and affordable. I’m going to make this as soon as my ginger bug is bubbling again. I’ll cut back a little on the cherry bark and licorice root and up the sarsaparilla a little (if I bought enough — have to check). I’m also thinking of skipping the hops for the reasons mentioned above. Did anyone have any luck using them without killing the non-yeast elements of a ginger bug culture? Will try to remember to report back!

  40. TCigar says

    1: When ordering the root do I want the bark or powder? Bark or powder? Bark or powder?
    2: Is the yeast only to add the carbonation? I homebrew and keg my beer and carbonate with a co2 tank. Can I make the root beer, keg it and carbonate with the co2 tank?


  41. Mike says

    Hopefully you are still checking these messages because I would really like to know if it would work to put the un- carbonated / un-fermented root beer in bottles with crimp on caps like I use to bottle my beer. Should I allow it to ferment at all in a primary fermenter before moving it to the bottles? Or do you suppose it would be fine to let it ferment for 3 or 4 days in a regular bottle with a bottle cap before refrigeration?

  42. says

    I’m not Jenny, or by any means an expert — I just ferment a lot at home, including several different kinds of fermented soda (water kefir, kombucha, and various drinks fermented either with ginger bug or whey or other starter cultures) on a regular basis — but I can try my hand at an answer.

    TCigar, I would recommend the bark for more freshness. If you don’t want your root beer to be fermented with the lactobacilli that are in a ginger bug or similar starter culture, you could just add yeast to eat some of the sugar and, if you bottle it with enough active yeast, carbonate it naturally; or you could boil the herbs and sugar (probably a little less sugar, to taste) in water to make a sweet tea and then just carbonate it for an un-fermented regular soda. This negates the benefit of having a fermented soda with beneficial bacteria and less sugar left, but is most certainly doable, especially as you already have the carbonation equipment from home-brewing.

    Mike, I should think crimped cap bottles would be fine, but if you don’t ferment to dryness and have both remaining sugar and remaining yeast after primary, when you bottle do fill one plastic bottle as a tester to feel for building carbonation by the stiffness of the flexible bottle. I skipped primary fermentation for this brew, as I do for ginger beer, but I’m sure you could do it that way. You might have to reintroduce either more ginger bug/similar or added yeast before you bottle if you want natural carbonation. Otherwise it might be flat.

  43. Rose says

    I went to my local plant store and bought a wintergreen plant, so I could have all the wintergreen flavoring I want.

  44. Blake Fessenden says

    I’m going to be brewing this recipe for the first time ever tomorrow. I really excited/nervous about it though. I have made the ginger bug with some help from my science buddies it’s smelling yeasty a sound like it’s fizzing a little so I believe it’s ready (cross my finger) I purchased every item on the list from organic growers. Now my question is will this taste like a beer or a bitter sweet root beer?

  45. Rita Ladany says

    Hi Jenny! I hope this recipe goes into your next book. I did make this a couple months back and it tasted really good. But I didn`t get the fizz I wanted from my ginger bug. I did buy Yogourmet freeze dried Kefir starter. It is for milk can it be used for the root beer. You do state to use a packet kefir starter culture in the directions. The link you have for it doesn`t work. I just don`t want this batch to go down the drain or will this be OK. Or should I use more ginger bug?
    Live, Love, & Laugh, Rita

  46. Don says

    I grew up drinking sassafras tea and my grandmother lived into her late 90s drinking it. We drank it as a Spring tonic, but had an occasional cup throughout the year. Neither of us have ever had cancer. I’d be a lot more worried about the chemicals in commercial drinks, especially diet drinks, and the BPA in the can liner than i would the root bark.

    This has been such an odd year i’m hoping i’m not to late to harvest some root from my trees. I found this recipe at the perfect time, thanks.

  47. Kelsi says


    Upon reading the comments, I’m confused as to whether I should use milk kefir starter culture or water kefir starter culture. Anyone tried it with milk and had good results? That’s what I bought.

    Also, anyone tried fermenting it in a glass carboy instead of in the bottles? I don’t see there being much difference, just let it ferment then bottle it when it’s done in a few days. Just want to make sure that someone whose tried it in a carboy has had success. Any help in appreciated!

  48. Emily says

    Hi, I have lots of whey in my fridge from making cheese. I was just wondering if i could use whey from cheese as a starter for this drink? Or would I need to use whey from yoghurt? Many thanks for any help :)

  49. Mirian says

    Could I just make a syrup with this, that is, without fermenting? I have a carbonating appliance. Would I get the same health benefits of the herbs and roots without fermentation? Plus, I’m apprehensive about bottle explosion.

  50. DawnBarbie says

    How much of each item do I need to buy? I’d hate to purchase something only to find out I needed more, or try to get more and then have a bushel bag of it taking up space and never get used. I did that with tea!
    Is it really close to cost effective to brew root beer? Looks expensive :/
    Would Rose Mountain be able to put together the Nourished Kitchen Root Beer bundle?!

    • Carol says

      You could contact them and ask….they might be willing to. they are a great group of people. They are in my home town, and I see them all regularly to pick up my orders…

  51. Kate says

    Traditional root beer was often a bitter brew. Earlier tastes were different from modern tastes which are addicted to “sweet” The sassafras, sasaparilla, licorice root, dandelion root, were chosen for their medicinal properties. If you don’t like the recipe as is adjust the ingredient by reducing and/or reducing the bitter herbs. Local brews substituted ingredients based on what was available to the brewer, sch as dried sweet woodruff for vanilla bean (expensive and hard to get) or wintergreen leaf for birch bark (same flavor- grows different places) anise seed for licorice root – same flavor but not same medicinal properties. Taste the decoction (during cooling – before fermenting) and play with the recipe and make it your.

  52. Kristin says

    I have a continuous brew kombucha system and was wondering if it would be possible to use this same recipe (minus the water kefir grains) for root beer kombucha. Thanks!!

  53. Marisa says

    Is it best to buy the herbs in bark or powder form? Mountain Rose is out of stock in all of the barks but have the powder… I make Kefir soda and am interested in making my own root beer. So excited to get going.

  54. Rachel says

    I’d love to make this, but can’t afford to buy all 10 herbs/roots (I already have cinnamon sticks)… If you could only use 3 or 4 for the main flavor, which ones would you use?? Sassafras, wintergreen, ..? Thanks!

    • Jenny says

      If you can’t afford the whole lot (or don’t have room to store it!), I’d recommend sassafrass and wintergreen and maybe sarsparilla.

  55. Carleigh says

    Hi! Is there anything else you could store this in besides individual bottles? I’d like to serve it in a large serving…something. Thank you!

  56. Kazia Jessop says

    If I were to store some of the more obscure ingredients in the freezer (in an airtight, dry container of course), would if damage them or have a noticeable effect on their potency later on? I’m referring to the hops flowers, various barks, and wintergreen leaves. I keep lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in the freezer, but I don’t know if I could handle these similarly.

  57. David says

    When I look at other soda recipes, they are designed for a 1 gallon batch. Instructions read to add 3 to 4 gts water, steep the ingredients, add the sugar, THEN ADD ENOUGH WATER TO MAKE 1 GALLON, before you add the yeast/culture. Your recipe does not mention this step. So in your recipe, are we adding any additional water, or just using what we end up with?

  58. Barry Antrim says

    The supplier you mention for ingredients – Mountain Rose Herbs- has half the items out of stock. They are available elsewhere. I must say the cost is ridiculous for these items.

  59. Joseph L says

    Hello, I know this recipe has been online for some time but I finally decided to dive into beer brewing and also wanted to make some root beer for my daughter. Two questions, I’d like to do it from scratch, not using a syrup kit and wanted to know if this recipe tasted similar to any root beers on the market? Also, one of our favorites is brand by Sprecher. I know they use honey and I think molasses. If familiar, any recommendations on adding these to this recipe to make it taste similar? Thanks!

    • Jenny says

      Joseph –

      This isn’t really similar to most root beers on the market. It has strong earthy and bitter notes. If I wanted a flavor more closely aligned to modern root beer, I would make an infusion of sassafrass and wintergreen and skip the other ingredients which add complexity and depth, but don’t align with the flavor profile of modern root beer.

  60. Dr. J says

    Hi All,

    I used this to brew root beer and the initial output was 10% abv. We added several more ingredients and more sugar. It turned out AWeSOME!

    Thanks for the help…

    Dr. J

  61. says

    Can I use some of what I brew as a starter for another batch?? I do this with coconut kefirs and milk kefir so wonder if it would work. Thank you for such a well-laid out recipe!

  62. Joe says

    I didn’t read all the way through the comments, but I have a question and statement that might have been answered or addressed:

    1) What is the end yield of the recipe? Is it basically the amount of water that you use (2.5 quarts)?

    2) I was watching a special on TV about drugs about a month after I found this recipe and noticed that they mentioned that safrole is used in the production of MDMA. I wonder if that is why it is so hard to come by and why the big “it’s carcinogenic” story which I am having a bit of trouble believing.

    Anyway, I look forward to giving this a try.


  63. Sam says

    Do you know of anyone using wild ginger (Asarum canadense) in the ginger bug instead of the Chinese ginger? I would really like to be able to find as many components locally as possible, but I can’t find any reference to anyone using the “ginger” that grows here in a ginger bug. Maybe the chemical composition is too different for the yeast?

  64. Shawnie says

    Could you use wintergreen essential oil in place of the leaf? I can’t seem to find the leaf anywhere.

  65. Jeff McEntire says

    I ordered ginger root (cut and sifted). I was sent ginger root powder by mistake. It’s of no consequence to me if I can use instead of the cut and sifted. Could someone tell me?

  66. kyle says

    We tried your root beer recipe. But it seems to have a bitter aftertaste, maybe a bark taste We can’t really tell what it is because we don’t know what the herbs taste like. Any help would be appreciated.

  67. Mark says

    This was delicious! This tasted just like the homemade root beer we would purchase as kids when our parents took us to the local “Old Settlers Days” Rendezvous. A small company called “Bud’s Homemade Root Beer” out of Alton, IL made batches that tasted just like this, except they sold it non-carbonated. Your recipe is exactly spot on with theirs! You don’t understand how happy you have made me. Thank you so much for providing this recipe!

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