Warm up with a cup of foraged tea- there’s always plenty in nature’s larder to get out with the family and enjoy something delicious.
I’d be lying if I said January was my favourite month! The twinkly Christmas lights are a distant memory and the weather is far from perfect. Summer seems such a long way away…
So slumping into the nearest squishy chair with a comforting hot drink is really the only answer. But we don’t do tasty teas by halves here! It’s any excuse to dodge the showers and get out in the Dorset countryside to find something delicious!
A foraged tea of pine is an awesome drink that you can make year round! The needles contain vitamins C and A- contributing to your immune system as well as your eyes and skin. It’s been traditionally believed that pine tea can make you live longer!
How to identify: you can identify pine trees in a number of ways. Perhaps the easiest is that the needles are long and pointed. Between 2-5 needles will come from a single point on the stem. Pine trees also produce hard, woody pinecones.
How to prepare: all you need to do is steep a handful of pine needles in boiling water for 3-5 minutes and enjoy!
Be aware: pine needle tea isn’t suitable if you are pregnant. Secondly, while you can use most varieties of pine, be sure to avoid Yew and Cypress which can sometimes be mistaken for pine. A good rule of thumb is to avoid flat needles. If you’re not sure- don’t drink it!
Take it further: pine needles can be incorporated into all sorts of cooking, or why not try your hand at pine needle jelly?
Foraged Teas – Nettle
Another super easy forage, nettles are probably one of the first plants we learn as kids, if only to avoid them! There is evidence that nettles could help with everything from UTIs, blood sugar management, arthritis and more! Crush the tiny hairs on the nettle leaves that deliver the nasty sting manually or by cooking.
How to identify: heart shaped leaves that give a painful sting when touched! Very common all over the UK but the best time for fresh new growth is spring or autumn.
How to prepare: Boil or steep in water for about five minutes. You may wish to strain before enjoying, add honey or cinnamon to taste.
Be aware: don’t pick or eat nettles when they’re in flower. During this time the plant will start producing cystoliths, or calcium carbonate, which can be absorbed by the body and can interfere with kidney function. Also, be aware of the sting! We usually wear gloves when harvesting, or use scissors to snip the heads into a basket to avoid touching the leaves.
Take it further: Nettles are a really versatile plant, and plentiful! Why not experiment with making nettle soup, beer or pesto!
Instantly recognisable, gorse is a super easy forage that makes epic sweet delicious tea. It’s been used traditionally in folk medicine to treat anything from coughs, colds and sore throats to tuberculosis, jaundice and even hiccups.
How to identify: Luckily gorse is super easy to identify- just look for bright yellow flowers growing on green spiky plants. On warm days you can often smell the sweet and coconutty smell just from walking past!
How to prepare: Take a small handful of gorse flowers from the plant and steep in hot water. You can also dry the flowers, if using dried you’ll need about half as many per cup.
Be aware: the plants are very spiky so take care when picking the flowers. It may be worth leaving the flowers to sit for a while after picking to allow any resident insects to depart!
Take it further: If you like the flavour of the tea, you can boil it down with some extra sugar to make a delicious syrup, great on the kids pancakes or in the adults cocktails!
The best spots I have found for collecting pineapple weed are the cracks in the pavements around where I live. Far from being an exotic wild plant, it is delicious none the less! It’s related to chamomile and has many of the same relaxing properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory.
How to identify: Loving adversity, you’ll find pineapple weed on ‘waste ground’, between cracks in concrete and on scrubland. It’s got very small feathery leaves, and the flowers look much like daisies, without the small white petals. When crushed the flowers give a smell of pineapple.
How to prepare: The flowerheads are the best part, simply crush slightly and steep in hot water for a few minutes for a deliciously sweet tea.
Be aware: There’s very little risk of misidentifying pineapple weed. Chamomile and Mayweed are both quite similar but perfectly edible. Due to it’s location, it would be well worth giving it a wash before making your tea.
Take it further: Like gorse, you can make an epic syrup or cordial from pineapple weed, which is as happy on porridge or pancakes as it is in a drink.
Foraged Teas – Bramble
While the fruit and the flowers get most of the love, bramble leaves make an excellent tea (comparable to to Earl Grey). It has a strong astringency, and has a history of use in traditional folk medicine to treat mouth ulcers, sore throats and gastrointestinal problems.
How to identify: Another super simple forage, blackberries were probably one of the first wild plants you ate! When the fruit is out of season, the plant is identifiable by long thorny stems (sometimes up to 2m or more in height) with small thorns on the undersides of the leaves, as well as small white flowers.
How to prepare: A small handful of leaves is all you’ll need for a cup of tea. The younger leaves tend to be less bitter, and have softer thorns on the underside. Gently crush the leaves, steep for a few minutes and enjoy. Like most of these teas, you can dry the leaves for storage, and you’ll only need about half the amount for your tea.
Be aware: The main thing to be aware of is the sharp thorns on the stems and leaves- gloves are your best friend here!
Take it further: Why not use all the parts of the bramble plant? The young leaves and flowers can be used in salads, and there are endless uses for blackberries!
We hope you can get out and find at least one of these plants and make a delicious cup of tea. It’s such a simple and quick way to forage and enjoy the fruits (or leaves!) of your labour.
As with all foraging, if you’re not completely certain you can identify it, don’t eat it!
If you’d like to develop your foraging knowledge further, we offer a range of foraging courses. Forage the shoreline on our Coastal Foraging and Edible Seaweed sessions, or join a Foraging and Wild Pizza Workshop. We’d love to have you along!