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Foraging is a wonderfully rewarding, empowering and interesting undertaking, and despite a lifetime of warnings about eating wild plants, the truth is that it’s a relatively safe activity. While foraging plants—even more so than mushrooms—is something we must do cautiously and responsibly, it’s easy to acquire the knowledge to go outside and find food in the wild.
Most of the time the notion of foraging is centered around eating. We envision basketfuls of wild berries. We think about exotically shaped mushrooms growing on stumps. Some of us may even go into backyard weeds like dandelions, purslane and chickweed. But foraging plants to make tea might not come to mind.
However, an abundance of wild plants can be used to make fantastic teas, both flavorful and healthful. What’s more is that many of these plants are simple to identify, familiar to most of us and easy to find.
1. Raspberry 2. Blackberry
Though the thought of picking and eating berries in the wild seems scary to many of us, the fact is that most berries we are accustomed to eating are not so dangerous to forage. Blackberries and raspberries actually don’t have toxic lookalikes. Their unique drupelet configuration is unique to them and few other edible, though sometimes not as tasty, berries. But, more to the point, once they’ve been identified, the leaves of wild raspberry and blackberry plants can be used to make healthful tea.
Strawberries also occur in the wild, and like raspberries and blackberries, for those familiar with these berries and the plants, they are easy to identify. They have one lookalike, the “false” strawberry, which is edible but virtually tasteless. These two can be differentiated by the shape and placement of the berry, as well as blooms: wild strawberries have white flowers, mock strawberries have yellow. Strawberry leaves make tasty tea that has plenty of medicinal value.
While we cultivate mint in our gardens, sometimes to a dizzying and daunting degree, many varieties of mint can be found in the wild, and some of them—no big surprise—make knockout tea. The mint family is much larger than most of us realize: it includes basil, oregano, thyme, culinary sage, as well as all those other varieties we more readily identify as mint. Mint plants have unique square stalks with leaves that sit in opposite pairs, and many—particularly those we’d use—are very aromatic. If it’s got a square stalk and smells minty, then you’ve likely got some good tea.
Often disregarded as a weed tree or relatively unimpressive, pine trees are actually edible and nutritious, and pine needles make a delightful tea. White pine needles are said to make the most flavorful tea, but all true pines can be used to make one. The needles have incredibly large amounts of vitamin C. The one thing to be aware of, however, is that trees sometimes considered pines, such as the yew and Norfolk Island pine, are not actually pines and are, in fact, highly toxic.
6. Wild Rose
Amazingly, all rose plants produce edible treats. We just rarely take advantage of it these days. Wild roses are often invasive and pervasive, but the joy of them is that they are tasty and medicinal, some highly so. The thing to look for is the rose hips, the small fruit that forms after the roses have bloomed. They are actually best foraged in the late autumn and early winter when much of what we forage is no longer available. Rose hips make great tea and jam.
7. Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle, though painful to come into contact with, is actually full of nutrition and flavor. It can also be used to make a delicious tea. Harvesting and preparing stinging nettles will require some protection, i.e. gloves and sleeves, but it’s a wild edible that grows in abundance and is highly regarded for its medicinal qualities. These plants are worth the effort. They have an earthy taste, reminiscent of spinach, and combined with some sweetener and lemon, the tea is great.
These are seven easily identified, widely available wild edible plants that can be used to make healthful and flavorsome teas. They are fun to find, and as a whole, the list can provide fresh foraged teas throughout the year!
Always consult several sources when become familiar with a wild food, checking and triple-checking your id before consuming the plant or mushroom. Articles like this are meant to open the door to these possibilities, but they are not a substitute for due diligence on the forager’s part. Furthermore, it’s important to never forage in places where chemicals have likely been used.
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