Image source: Steve Nubie
Wild teas made from leaves, flowers and berries have surprising nutritional and medicinal properties. Better yet, they taste great, especially when sweetened with honey, sugar, maple syrup, molasses or an artificial sweetener like Stevia.
A standard caution whenever consuming any wild source or plant is to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have a medical condition or are taking a prescription medicine. As an example, people on a blood thinner like Warfarin should generally avoid eating wild plant sources. Many wild plants possess vitamin K, which is a natural blood thinner. Consuming these plants in any form could compromise the thinness of the blood and the correct dosage of Warfarin, and could lead to problems.
Another caution that frequently shows up is related to Red Clover tea. Women who are pregnant should avoid Red Clover tea and it may be best to avoid wild food sources in general. However, if you do not have a medical condition, you should be fine if you identify and prepare these teas properly.
Another caution is related to shelf life. If you intend to store your wild tea for any length of time (even in the refrigerator), you need to add a process step. This involves boiling the finished tea in a covered pot for at least 10 minutes.
The most significant nutritional benefit of these teas is vitamin C. This is particularly true for Red Sumac berry tea and to a lesser degree with Goldenrod, Red Clover and Blackberry leaves. However, all of these teas present phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, chromium and thiamine, in addition to vitamin C.
If you’re drinking any of these teas for their medicinal benefits it’s recommended that you drink 3 to 5 cups a day. Unless you boil them in a covered pot for 10 minutes to kill all bacteria, you should make a fresh batch daily.
Goldenrod tea has been shown in numerous clinical studies to relieve urinary tract infections, bladder infections and kidney infection. Goldenrod tea also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to relieve congestion, although most teas do.
Not surprisingly, Goldenrod tea has a deep, translucent golden, yellow color. The flavor is somewhat sweet with licorice flavor notes in the background. It’s best sweetened with honey for medicinal purposes but is good with any sweetener.
Red Sumac Berry Tea
Red Sumac berry tea has astringent, anti-septic properties, is an excellent tonic and has benefits for the kidneys. The vitamin C also serves to boost the immune system and as a hot tea offers relief for congestion, coughs, colds and flu.
Red Sumac berry tea has a flavor mildly reminiscent of pink lemonade and rosy, red color and is best when enjoyed with any sweetener.
Red Clover Tea
For hundreds of years, Red Clover has been used to treat coughs and colds, easing the symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, calming skin irritations, lessening the aches and pains of arthritis, and easing anxiety and insomnia.
Red clover tea actually has a fresh, grassy flavor and the color of the tea is a light green in spite of the red/lilac color of the flower tops.
Blackberry Leaf Tea
Recent research has attributed some significant health benefits to Blackberry Leaf tea. For centuries, it was used to treat high blood pressure and nervous disorders, but recent studies indicate some anti-cancer properties. It is an excellent source for oral health — including periodontal disease and inflammation of the gums — and has been shown to have anti-bacterial properties and promote cardiovascular health.
The flavor is almost identical to a traditional black tea and is also good when sweetened.
Wild Tea Preparation
Each one of these 4 teas has slightly different preparation processes. In general, they all involve infusing the tea in water for varying lengths of time. You can do this by either using a tea ball and allowing the tea ball to seep in a cup, or steeping the source in a bowl of water and straining.
Goldenrod Tea Preparation
Goldenrod. Photographer: Steve Nubie
Goldenrod comes into full bloom from September through October. The plants can fill a field and are distinguished by their bright yellow flower tops.
Only the yellow flower tops are harvested for the tea. Some believe the flower tops that are not fully in bloom make for a better tea, but I prefer the flower tops in full bloom because of the color it imparts to the finished tea.
A Goldenrod tea infusion is made by dropping a handful of Goldenrod flower tops into a pot of simmering, not boiling water. They’re left to steep for 5 minutes and then strained through a fine, mesh strainer. If you don’t have a fine mesh strainer, you can line any type of strainer with cheesecloth or a clean wash cloth.
Once the tea has been strained, you should see a translucent, golden color. The tea is now ready to be enjoyed and sweetened if you like. You can also enjoy it hot or cold.
Red Sumac Berry Tea Preparation
Sumac. Photographer: Steve Nubie
Red Sumac Berries are easy to find and to identify. The Sumac trees begin showing bright, red leaves in early fall and the Sumac Berries emerge from the top of the trees as a red spike of berries 4 to 8 inches in length.
The best berries are a deep, red color and are best harvested during dry weather. Rain rinses away some of the malic acid that possesses most of the flavor and health benefits.
The berries are stripped from the stems by hand and then ground either in a mortar and pestle or in a food processor. If grinding in a food processor, don’t overdo it. You want to crush the berries, not turn them into a powder.
After you have sufficiently crushed the berries, you want to infuse them in cold water. Hot water will make the resulting tea bitter. Leave them in the water for 1 to 1 hours. I’ll usually place the bowl in the fridge during this steeping time.
Once they have sufficiently steeped, strain them through a fine-mesh strainer. The resulting tea will have a rosy, red color. The intensity of the color can vary depending on the maturity of the berries and your crushing technique. Some people will continue to crush the berries in the water with a potato masher, but I’ve found this can make the resulting tea cloudy. The final tea can be enjoyed hot and sweetened or cold on ice.
Red Clover Flower Tea Preparation
Red clover. Photographer: Steve Nubie
Red Clover grows from early Spring to Late Fall until the first freeze. The flower tops have a distinctive appearance and have more of a lilac color than red.
Harvesting Red Clover is easy. You simply break off the flowers by the stem and then separate the flower tops from the stem. You’ll need 6 to 8 flower tops to make one cup of Red Clover Flower tea. The flower tops are placed in the cup and then the cup is filled with very hot water.
Let the flowers steep for 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll notice a color change to a light amber. You’ll also notice that the red flower tops have surrendered their red color to the infusion. Remove the flower tops and drink either hot or cold and sweetened with the sweetener of your choice.
Blackberry Leaf Tea Preparation
Blackberry leaves. Photographer: Steve Nubie
The easiest way to identify a blackberry plant after the blackberries have fallen is to look for the deep, red canes and thorns that are a distinctive feature of the plant. The leaves alone are used for Blackberry Leaf tea but there’s a trick to harvesting them.
Blackberry leaves have a row of very sharp thorns running along the underside of the leaf on the center vein of the leaf. The best way to harvest them is to fold the leaf over from the top of the leaf with your thumb and forefinger. This is similar to the way you would harvest Stinging Nettle leaves. Once you’ve done this you can safely pull the leaf from the plant.
After you’ve collected a sufficient number of leaves, you have another step. You need to remove the central vein and its long row of thorns. Unlike Stinging Nettle thorns that will soften or dissolve in boiling water, these thorns aren’t going to be subjected to boiling water, but hot water in a steep. It’s true that you’ll dry and crush the leaves and ultimately filter the tea, but the thought of one needle getting through and lodging in my throat makes this an easy decision.
The technique involves pinching the leaf with your thumb and forefinger similar to the way you did when harvesting, only you’re doing this from the back side of the leaf. You then use a pair of scissors to cut out the central vein leaving two leaf halves.
Once you have finished cutting out the thorny veins you’re ready to roast the leaves on a foil lined baking sheet. You roast them for 20 to 25 minutes in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven. The leaves will dry and brown. You’re now ready to crush the leaves in a mortar and pestle, or you can do this with your hands. A food processor also works, but once again, remember to pulse briefly. You don’t want to turn the leaves into dust.
Once you’ve crushed the leaves, steep them in very hot water, either in a bowl or a cup for 15 minutes. You can also use a tea ball in a cup for this step. If you steep in a bowl, strain the tea through cheese cloth stretched over a strainer, even a fine-meshed strainer. There will be very small particles you’ll want to filter out or you’ll have a cloudy result.
Once the Blackberry Leaf tea is filtered, you can pour it into a cup and enjoy either hot or cold, and sweetened.
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