I have a cold, a rampant one. It is, as Dickens described Scrooge, “A Squeezing, Wrenching, Grasping, Scraping, Clutching, Covetous, Old Sinner”, of a cold. I’m wallowing in misery. All of which makes me wonder (between mugs of fresh hot lemonade) if root beer could be used as a medicine.
This idea isn’t as far fetched as you might suppose. The first commercial root beers were made by pharmacists. The customer would buy a concentrate and mix it up at home as needed. Furthermore, root beer has ROOTS in it, extracts and essences, and who knows what else. I’d bet that any self respecting herbalist or witch could throw together a passable root beer using the supplies on hand. Let us explore…
Sassafras: Our friends over at WebMD report that sassafras has been considered a remedy for urinary tract disorders, swelling in the nose and throat, syphilis, bronchitis, high blood pressure, gout, arthritis, and skin problems. On the flip side, it can kill you. And colds aren’t explicitly listed. So, it’s probably okay that modern root beer makers don’t use real sassafras anymore.
Sarsaparilla: Here’s another major taste maker in root beer. Besides being super fun to say, sarsaparilla is billed as a cold remedy (Hurrah!) as well as a cure for joint pain, headaches, and leprosy. While I don’t currently know anyone who has leprosy, I’ll know what to do if I travel back in time and meet up with Henry IV, a reputed sufferer.
Wintergreen: Wintergreen oil is supposed to be a good pain reducer and to help with arthritis, although perhaps it needs to be applied externally instead of ingested. Chances are low that I’m going to rub my aching joints with root beer. I also have a sneaking suspicion that wintergreen oil works by making your skin hot and irritated. No proof, just a hunch. If you get all crazy and try it out, let me know.
Licorice: Among other health benefits licorice is noted for helping you produce phlegm and maintain a healthy respiratory system. It certainly works for me, because my instinct when eating licorice is to spit it out and then run around yelling “Ick! Ick!” while wiping my tongue with tissues. That last part might be too much information. We’ll blame the current state of my health and just note that I won’t be using licorice as a cold remedy.
Root beers often use other herb-type ingredients. Birch, molasses, honey, and vanilla spring to mind. Somewhere in the mess of ingredients there has to be something helpful. I believe this wholeheartedly. Any drink that smells so much like medicine has to have curative properties. This is one of Newton’s Laws, or if it isn’t, it ought to be.