20 Missions 4: Wild Teas

Mission 4: Wild Teas

I once went on a lovely walking holiday in the Lot et Gironde area of France, near Cahors. What I loved about it was that the travel company would move our luggage from one night’s accommodation to the next. This just left us with a picnic to carry in the morning when we set off into the beautiful French countryside. French cooking can be a little rich for the ‘Rosbif’ digestion system. One of the elements of our picnic was a thermos full of freshly boiled water to which we would add wild ‘digestif’ herbs en-route, particularly fennel. This worked a treat and any tummy upsets were soon resolved.

Similar to the above food foraging mission, you are now in search of wild plants for teas and tinctures. As with food foraging above – please make sure you have correctly identified the plant you are harvesting. Wild teas in particular can have a medicinal effect. If you have a minor dis-ease you could even turn this nature mission into a ‘quest’ – seeking out and tracking down the very plant you need to help you with your ailment.

As I writer I get some trouble with eye-strain from sitting too long at a computer. Imagine my delight whilst out walking one day I came across a huge swathe of ‘Eyebright’ (Euphrasia) – the very herb that seems to help strengthen weak eyes. I harvested some of it for a tea when I got home. I later made some of the flowers into a tincture as this provides a means to preserve its special medicinal qualities through the year.

Below is a list of wild and garden plants you can use to make tasty, medicinal, interesting or experimental liquid concoctions. Your mission this week is to identify and harvest a beneficial wild tea. If you enjoy this, move on to tincture making.

Lemon Balm: Melissa officinialis

One of my favourite plants, Melissa is often found in gardens where it spreads easily. Even just crushing the leaves in the hand emits a beautiful lemon fragrance that transfers well to a tisane (fresh or dried herb soaked in boiling water) . For a tea, simply steep the leaves to preference, strain and serve, with a touch of honey if you like. It has diaphoretic qualities (inducing perspiration) and can be used for fevers or even to cool down on a hot day. It makes a powerful tincture.

Borage:  Borago officinalis

This plant again is more usually found in a garden than in the wild. Both the leaves and the bright blue flowers make a stimulating tea. In ancient times Borage was regarded as a kind of herbal pep-pill. ‘Borage is for courage’ goes the traditional ditty. Borage flowers are both pretty and edible, making a good addition to summer salads and drinks. You can also freeze the flowers inside ice cubes for pretty, summer drinks.

Ground Ivy:  Glechoma hederacea

Traditionally known as Alehoof, Ground Ivy was used to clarify and flavour beer before the widespread use of hops. The herb tea, made from dried leaves, has a pleasing fragrance and the plant is found in the wild, often in oak woods and hedgebanks.

Meadowsweet:  Filipendula ulmaria

Grows wild by fresh water and in damp woods. A spectacular summer plant, it looks like great heads of candy-floss on sticks. It has a delightful aroma when fresh and has traditionally been used dried to flavour drinks such as port, claret and mead.

Mint varieties: Mentha

All of the mints are worth trying, not least for the surprising range of flavours available. Easily grown in even the smallest of gardens, it is worth keeping it pot-bound as it spreads like wildfire! Try Apple Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Pineapple Mint, Orange Mint, Ginger Mint – frequent pinching out of the tips improves their bushiness. Mint has been used for centuries as an appetiser and digestive. Mint oil is a useful antiseptic to keep in the kitchen and can help with stomach upsets, colds and toothaches.

Wild Thyme:  Thymus drucei

The wild variety of thyme is more subtle in flavour and aroma than the garden varieties, although these make an excellent cleansing tea. It is quite a small plant that growth close to the ground in open, heathy spaces, but the honey-scented flowers make it readily identifiable. It’s great for wild cooking and makes a cleansing tisane that helps digestion.

Woodruff : Galium odoratum

Found in the late spring, often carpeting the edges of beech woods with their tiny white flowers. When dried the leaves and flowers develop a smell of fresh, new-mown hay and were traditionally used as a strewing herb and to scent linen. Also known as Sweet Woodruff, it imparts an ambrosial flavour if left to steep in apple juice for a week. An ideal herb to add to summer wine cups or just make an occasional tisane by infusing a handful of the flowering tops in boiling water.

These are just a few of the many teas that can be made from plants growing around you. Make friends with the nature in your environment by bringing it in and making a nice cup of wild tea from it, but make sure you have a good book with which to correctly identify plants because there are poisonous ones too! Collect only from areas that are free of pollution and don’t over crop!

Below is a list of other wild and garden plants that can be used to make healing teas. Get to know some of these and you will soon be a hedgewitch!

Agrimony Alfalfa
Angelica Anise or Aniseed
Apple Avens
Barley Basil
Bay Bearberry
Bergamot (Red) Betony
Bilberry Birch (Silver)
Bistort Blackberry
Blackcurrant Bladderwrack
Blue Flag Buchu
Burdock Calamint
Camellia Caraway
Catmint Celery
Centaury Chamomile
Chervil Cleavers
Comfrey Coriander
Cornsilk Couch grass
Cress Cucumber
Dandelion Dill
Elder Elecampagne
Fenugreek Feverfew
Fig Flax
Fumitory Ginseng
Guelder Rose Hawkweed (Mouse eared)
Hawthorn Heather
Hedge Garlic Hops
Hyssop Jasmine
Juniper Lavender
Lemon Lemon Verbena
Lime Liquorice
Lovage Lungwort
Marigold Marjoram
Marshmallow Meadowsweet
Mugwort Mulberry
Nettle Oats (wild)
Parsley Pine needles
Plantain Rhubarb
Rosemary Rose
Sage St. John’s Wort
Sarsaparilla Sassafras
Savory Scurvy Grass
Skullcap Sorrel
Southernwood Strawberry (wild)
Sweet Cicely Tansy
Tarragon Thyme
Valerian Vervain
Violet (sweet) Viper’s Bugloss
Watercress Wood Sage

Please correctly identify and find out more about these plants by using quality reference materials, or go on a good course. If you are not certain of the identification, don’t use it because there are some deadly ones out there.