Of Sassafras & Spirits

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

SassafrasBeer, wine, scotch, tequila, even sake all have at least this in common: they come from plants.  In her wonderful book The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart explores the dizzying array of flowers, trees, and fungi that we have transformed into alcohol over the centuries.

Join us at the Schuylkill Center on Thursday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m. for a special chat-and-sip event. We’ll talk about and read from the book, and Olivia Carb from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, that extraordinary Philadelphia distiller, shares their drinks like Root, Snap, and Rhubarb Tea, all from plants.  Snap, for example, comes from at least six plants: sugarcane, clove, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and tea.

Sassafras Grove3

And Root, inspired by old birch beer and sarsaparilla soda recipes, includes almost a dozen different plants, including lemons, oranges, allspice, anise, cloves, mints, and nutmeg. But no sassafras—and we’ll tell you why in a moment.

Sassafras grows in abundance here, its snake-like trunks wiggling through the understory.  About sassafras, Amy Stewart writes, “Imagine the situation that European colonists found themselves in when they arrived in North America.  They brought what food and medicine they could, but much of it was already consumed, or spoiled, by the time they came ashore.  They encountered plants and animals they’d never seen before and had no choice but to find out what they could eat or drink. Any berry, leaf, or root could either save them or kill them.

“One such plant was sassafras,” she continues, “a small and highly aromatic tree… The leaves and root bark were put to use as a medical remedy right away… to promote perspiration, to attenuate thick and viscous humours, to remove obstructions, (and) to cure the gout and palsy.”

Old-time sarsaparilla, a precursor of root beer, was made with sassafras, birch bark and other flavors.  But in 1960, after discovering that a major ingredient of the plant was carcinogenic and toxic to the liver, sassafras was banned.  That’s why there’s no sassafras in Root, but tons of other good stuff.

Come and enjoy a spirited conversation about drinking plants—while sipping the fruits of the harvest.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s