History Byte – Spring Tonic

Dr. Chase's Recipes or Information for Everybody

  As it is a beautiful spring day at the Village, it seems appropriate to post about a favourite spring pastime, brewing root beer.  Root beers were a spring brew intended to help people through the weather change.  I’ve come across a great recipe from Dr. Chase’s Recipes or Information for Everybody, published in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1866.  I’ve reproduced it below:

ROOT BEER – For each gallon of water to be used take hops, burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, dandelion, and spikenard roots, bruised, of each 1/2 oz.; boil about 20 minutes, and strain while hot, add 8 or 10 drops of oils of spruce and sassafras mixed in equal proportions, when cool enough not to scald your hand, put in 2 or 3 table-spoons of yeast; molasses 2/3 of a pint, or white sugar 1/2 lb. gives it about the right sweetness. 

Keep these proportions for as many gallons as you wish to make.  You can use more or less of the roots to suit your taste after trying it; it is best to get the dry roots, or dig them and let them dry, and of course you can add any other root known to possess medicinal properties desired in the beer.  After all is mixed, let it stand in a jar with a cloth thrown over it, to work about two hours, then bottle and set in a cool place.  This is a nice way to take alternatives, without taking medicine.  And families ought to make it every Spring, and drink freely of it for several weeks, and thereby save, perhaps, several dollars in doctors’ bills.

Unlike modern root beers, these Victorian root beers would have been alcoholic drinks with an alcohol content hovering around 1% depending on how long they were allowed to ferment before consumption.  If you are interested in trying these historic recipes, make sure you research the ingredients thoroughly to ensure they are safe.  For this recipe, exclude the sassafras as it is a known carcinogen and ensure that any roots you harvest are from clean soil from an area not treated with pesticides.  Happy Brewing!


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