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Root Beer as a Cure-All?

November 19, 2014

Root Beer logo for blogIn our last blog, the list of potential ingredients in root beer grew longer and longer.  So many of those ingredients were used for curing a variety of ailments.  So…

Is Root Beer medicine?

Just like Dr Pepper, many of the early varieties of root beer began in pharmacies. There were many pharmacists trying to create cure-all drinks, often coming up with liquids containing roots, berries, bark and flavorings. Many of those herbs, roots, and berries mixed together to create root beer were thought to have medicinal or healing properties.

Hires syrup container in soda fountainCustomers would buy the root beer flavored syrup from the pharmacist, take it home and then experiment with how much water or even seltzer water to mix it with. The result tasted both sweet and bitter.

Hires extract bottlesCharles Hires came across a recipe for a wonderful tasting tea.  He developed it into a root beer of more than 25 herbs, roots and berries. This elixir was then brewed by consumers at home.  In 1876 he introduced it at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and the public loved it.  In 1880 he had a liquid extract ready to go for use at home.  By 1893 it had become so popular it was bottled and sold as a soft drink.

In traditional herbal medicine, many root beer ingredients are thought to contain a variety of health benefits. Now obsolete in natural and herbal medicine, sassafras was traditionally used as a diuretic and thought to cleanse the blood and promote skin health. Sarsaparilla, similarly, was typically used to beautify the complexion and as a diuretic.  Traditionally, wintergreen leaf was thought to prevent gas and to ease digestion, and it was also typically used to ease nerve pain.  Licorice root 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 used in homemade root beer: ginger, dandelion, hops, birch have also featured widely in traditional herbal medicine.

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The Dr Pepper Museum is located at 300 S. 5th Street in downtown Waco.  The Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM and Sunday from Noon until 5:00 PM, last ticket sold at 4:15.  For more information, visit us on the web at drpeppermuseum.com. To purchase your own
Dr Pepper memorabilia, visit the Museum’s online gift shop.

 

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