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Using Native Plants For Teas

Excerpted from: Using Wild Plants For Teas

Cup of tea made from native plants In an effort to use all the resources at your disposal, learning how to use the native plants that are growing in your garden or in the forests or fields is a great idea. Many native plants around your home are more than just additional greenery. Additionally, many native plants are not only edible but make excellent teas.

These teas are tasty and also nutritious or medicinal. People have been using wild plants for teas and tonics for thousands of years, but much of the knowledge escapes most of us. It’s time to take to the yard and look for some of these delightful herbals for your next cup of tea.

Drying And Storing

The first lesson is to be very, very sure that you can correctly identify the plant you are about to harvest. Not all your wild greenery is friendly, so to avoid mistaking a nice herb for something poisonous, consider investing in a good plant identification book. A good one should cover your Wisconsin, have detailed descriptions and images, and mention any plants that are commonly mis-identified.

A lot of us grew up thinking of tea as something that came in a bag. As foraging has regained popularity, more people are brewing their own herbal infusions from tea ingredients they harvest themselves.

A cup of rose hips tea In general, when you are harvesting and using wild plants for teas, you want the leaves of the plant. Simply pluck off the leaves as you need them or use sharp kitchen shears. The best time to harvest is in the morning after the dew has dried. It is also ideal to harvest just before flowers form, but it is not necessary.

If you can see the leaves and they are in good shape, go ahead and take them. Because the leaves are the source of flavor and fragrance, be careful not to bruise, crush, or tear them while harvesting. You want them intact for later.

Use Now: To use your wild herbal leaves for tea, you can either dry them or use them fresh. If you are harvesting a lot of leaves and want to save some for later, you can dry or freeze them for storage. Typical measurements for making tea from fresh leaves and dry leaves are three teaspoons and one teaspoon, respectively, per cup of water.

Use Later: If you will be drying your herbs for storage, harvest complete branches with the leaves intact. Dry them by hanging the branches upside down in a cool, dry place that is free from disturbances, dust, and debris. When they are dry, remove the leaves from the branches, crumble them by hand, and store them in glass containers. Another way to preserve your herbs is to freeze them. Pick the leaves from the branches of the plant and put them whole into resealable freezer bags.

Recommended Plants For Teas

Raspberry, Blackberry, and Strawberry

Use eggshells in seed starter pots The leaves of these wild berries make a very pleasant tea. As you await the pleasure of biting into the fresh, wild fruits, harvest a few leaves to make nice teas. Strawberry tea, in particular, is astringent, aids in digestion, and makes a good fix for diarrhea, especially for children. Raspberry and blackberry leaves also make an astringent tea with a stronger flavor than strawberry leaves. The tea made from these leaves is chock full of vitamins and minerals.

Dandelion

Dandelion Tea Dandelion wine is not the only beverage you can get from this lovely “weed.” Dandelions are edible to their core. You can eat the leaves and flowers, make “coffee” from the roots, and make tea from the leaves. An infusion of dandelion leaves provides you with a good dose of nutrients and also soothes your stomach. Dandelion greens have a tendency to be bitter, so go for the smallest, youngest leaves, and if the tea tastes bitter to you, add a dollop of honey to sweeten it. See Dandelion Recipes for more ideas about how to use Dandelions

Mint

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens Peppermint grows wild and profusely. A sure way to know you have a patch of peppermint is to break a leaf and take a sniff. You cannot mistake that peppermint smell. The plant also produces an abundance of small, purple flowers. Peppermint tea is soothing and delicious. It is very refreshing as an iced tea in the summer and warming as a hot tea in winter. The smell alone should make you feel relaxed, and drinking the tea will make your upset stomach feel much better. Wintergreen is a different minty plant. It is a shrubbery that produces small, red berries. Wintergreen is slightly toxic, but in spite of that, you can make a tasty tea from it that reduces pain. It contains an aspirin-like substance, so anyone allergic to aspirin should avoid wintergreen altogether

Pine Needles

Pine Needle Tea The needles of several pine trees can be made into a tea with a very unique taste. Some might call it an acquired taste, but the nutritional value of pine tea cannot be denied. Pine needles have very high quantities of vitamin C, and the tea provides a big jolt of this essential compound. Use fresh, green needles, wash and chop them, and cover about one tablespoon with a cup of boiling water. Let the needles steep for five to ten minutes. You can experiment with different types of pine needles (try Eastern White Pine or Balsam) and mixtures of them for different flavors.

Do not use yew, Norfolk Island pine, or Ponderosa pine. These plants are poisonous! Also, pregnant women should not drink pine needle tea.

Wild Rose

Carolina Rose, Rosa carolina Wild roses are lovely, but they also make a great tea. The leaves, though, are not the source of tea from wild roses. You want to use the rose hips, or the fruit that comes after the flowers die. The rose hips are high in vitamin C and other nutrients and when made into a tea, provide a tangy, delicious, hot beverage. Pick the hips and crush them slightly before steeping in hot water.

Bee Balm

Scarlet Beebalm, Monarda didyma Often called bergamot, these bee-pleasing additions to your garden emit a lovely scent similar to the (unrelated) bergamot fruit, used to flavor Earl Grey tea. When American colonists boycotted British tea, they turned to Oswego tea, the beverage brewed by the Oswego Nation from bee balm (monarda didyma). Be forewarned that different varieties have very different flavors. I was disappointed when I brewed my first pot of bergamot harvested from my garden. Its oregano flavor did not make for a lovely tea at all! Stick with monarda didyma if you’re planning to brew tea from bee balm. If you’re not sure what you’ve got, a little taste of the leaf should tell you all you need to know. Use the oregano-flavored leaves for cooking instead. Bee balm’s medicinal uses include relaxation, pain relief, and digestive support.

Further Information

Edible Plants
Edible Berry Plants
Dandelion Recipes
Culinary Herbs