The leaves are changing here in Woodstock. Even before the yellows, reds, and oranges came, the north winds blew in signaling an end of summer, but not an end of plant life.
If you look closely you will see the hawthorn berries turning red, the autumn olives falling off their silver leafed branches, and the last of the elderberries for the season. You will see the tree nuts: acorns, black walnut (and their citrus smelling greek husks), and if you're lucky to snag few delicious hickory nuts before the worms get to them. You will see the seeds of amaranth and lambs quarter. You will see the greens of spring resurrected with the cooling weather: chickweed, dandelion, purslane. You will see the last of summers flower, bright and bold: nasturtium, goldenrod, loosestrife.
What you will not see without the help of a shovel are the roots!
Autumn is the time in a plants life cycle when the energy of the plant moves to the root, preparing for the dormant winter. This is the time to harvest your roots for medicine. And if you have ever dug up burdock, you know it isn't a small task, but well worth its weight in sweat. This is the time that my family dig up our roots: burdock, yellow dock, wild carrot, dandelion, sassafras, and more.
We process the roots in many ways. I like to make an iron syrup out of the yellow dock. We use the burdock in soups in the winter as well as tincture it. Our favorite way to celebrate Autumns roots are by making a traditional root beer.
Here is a simple root beer recipe that you can use as a guide in making your own root beer. You can use any roots or spices of your liking.
TIMEFRAME: 2 to 3 days
• 2 1/2 ounces ginger root
• Handful of juniper berries, clove, & star anise
• 1/2 ounce sweet birch
• 1/2 ounce winter green
• 1 ounce burdock root
• 1 ounce dandelion root
• 1 ounce sassafras root
• 1 1/2 sarsaparilla root
• 3 to 4 quarts of water
• 1 2/3 cups of brown sugar or honey
• 1/8 teaspoon ale yeast (bakers yeast will work as well)
• 1/4 cup of lukewarm water for yeast
* You will need a pinch of sugar to activate the yeast
1. Add all of your roots and spices into a large brewpot. Add 2-3 quarts of water and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the sugar/honey to the pot, stirring until dissolved.
2. Continue to simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Next, remove from heat, strain, cover, and let your liquid cool for 30 minutes.
3. In a growler or jug like vessel, add 1 quart of cool water. Once your root beer base has cooled, slowly pour into the growler. (You are aiming for a lukewarm overall temperature.) Leave about 2 inches head space at the top of the growler.
4. Cap the growler and agitate vigorously.
5. Place yeast into a small cup and add 1/4 cup lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, then add mixture to your growler.
6. Cap growler and agitate vigorously.
7. Using sanitized, recycled glass bottles, funnel your liquid into the bottles.
8. Cap bottles
9. Let root beer sit at room temperature for 48-72 hours. The longer you let your root beer sit the fizzier it will be. If your home is particularly warm, check root beer after 24 hours (you don't want any explosions!).
10. Once your root beer is to your liking 48- 72 hours later, place in refrigerator.