Sassafras Is a Star Ingredient During Foraged Cocktail Week


Professional bartenders make a living by lining up their ingredients in advance. But the folks at Jimmy’s No. 43 (43 East 7th Street; 212-982-3006) got the idea to feature a week of cocktails inspired by nature’s bounty and by a recently released book from Amy Zavatto, Forager’s Cocktail: Botanical Mixology With Fresh, Natural Ingredients.

Foraged Cocktails Week will focus on spirits from near and far, pairing the freshest local ingredients with premium whiskeys, brandies, and mezcals.

Zavatto’s early attempts at foraging started in her house in St. George, Staten Island, where the amenity of an actual yard was more like a land of the unknown. “Everything looked like a weed, especially this one invasive sapling, which it turned out was sassafras,” she says.

But sometimes the insight into a mystery is sitting on the tip of your tongue — or, in this case, nose. “When you yank it out of the ground, it smells so, so great, and after a while I figured out what to do with it,” the author explains.

Zavatto says that while you can use the leaves to make filé powder (typically used for gumbo), she employs sassafras roots for a syrup. She says that the name of this drink is a play on a couple of things — the sassafras root used in the syrup and her mom, Virginia, “who taught me the art of the hot toddy. She’d make us a less boozy version when my sisters and I were a little under the weather, which makes the sassafras even more apropos here because the root has long been used as a remedy for what ails. But now that we’re finally getting a good shot of winter, you don’t need a cold to dig into this warm, soothing sipper.”

For those who don’t have sassafras growing in their yard, stores like the Herb Shoppe sell it dried, which is perfectly acceptable for this cocktail recipe. The sassafras gives the drink another layer, with a mild taste of root beer.

Foraged Cocktail Week will run from January 25–31 at Jimmy’s No. 43. Weekday events include a spirits sampling and conversation with distillers including El Buho Mezcal and Catskill Provisions. Zavatto will be signing copies of her book on Saturday, January 30.

Virginia Grows Roots
4–5 whole cloves
1 broad strip of lemon peel or wheel
*¾ ounce sassafras syrup
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ ounces Irish whiskey
3 ounces hot water

Push the sharp end of the whole cloves into the lemon peel or wheel and drop into a mug. Add the sassafras syrup, lemon juice, and whiskey. Top with hot water and stir.

*Sassafras Syrup
1½ cups water
1 cup demerara sugar
2 tablespoons sassafras (dried is fine, and readily available at herb stores like the Herb Shoppe on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn)
1 star anise

Start with the syrup. Simmer water and sugar until the latter is dissolved. Put the sassafras and star anise in a diffuser, cheesecloth, or tea bag and add to the syrup. Bring to a simmer, then lower and cook about 20 minutes or until it tastes the way you like. Combine first four ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon peel.