A woman treads lightly upon the moss covered ground, her senses are her guide, she carries nothing but a knife. She carefully picks plants as she moves through the forest and back to her home. She lives in a hand-made house in the woods where she stores her herbs and treats people with her medicine from far and wide.
This is the fantasy that I grew up with.
I’m not sure if it’s from a particular film or a culmination of fantasy books, movies and fairy tales but when I started training as a herbalist this is the person I wanted to become. Although I don’t live in the woods by myself (I like modern luxuries too much) I do go camping in the woods when I pick my remedies.
Here are some of my favourite freshly foraged teas for you to try the next time you’re out in the wild. No need to pack a tea bag when there are herbal infusions galore around you.
Elderflower or berry
This tree is common through the most of the East of the USA and some of the West coast too. The berries or flower can be used to make a lovely brew. They both come attached to an umbrella-like spread of stalks. The berries are great to combat a cold as they’re full of vitamin C and antiviral ability. Whereas, the flower is good if you need to cool off or have a fever. They help to promote a healthy sweat and are also a mild relaxant, helping you sleep. The green stalks are toxic so it’s best to pick off the berries/flowers before pouring your boiling water on top. You will only need probably half a flower/berry head for a cup of tea. If you have a fork on you this is the easiest way to do this. Simply comb them off the stalks with your fork. The berries and the flower can then just sit in your hot water while you drink it. Feel free to eat the berries or flowers too. But do beware the Elder tree, it’s said that if you fall asleep beneath it you may get pulled into the land of the Fairies!
The Blackberry is called Bramble in the UK but in the USA it’s a term more commonly used for any impenetrable thicket. We all know the delicious treat that is a Blackberry but less of us know of the delicious leaves. They taste mildly of Blackberry but have lots of tannins which makes it good for drying things up. It’s a good one to know if you get hit with a bout of diarrhoea when you’re out in the woods. It’s not commonly used in herbal medicine but I’d like to see a resurgence as it’s so common. You’ll only need a couple leaves for a cup of tea.
Everybody knows about stinging nettle. Sadly, most of us have come to loathe it after some horrible mishap as a child. But Nettle won’t sting you if you are gentle with it. I recently taught this to a 4 year old and now she can touch a Nettle leaf but her Mum can’t. We said this is down to her protection magic. If you haven’t mastered your protection magic yet, it’ best to pick this by wrapping your hand in cloth or using a foraging knife/scissors (better yet, pack some gloves).
You’ll only need about 4 fresh young leaves. You can use the Nettle while it is flowering and seeding but not if you’re prone to inflammatory problems like rheumatism or kidney stones. If you’re prone to those problems it’s best to avoid Nettle altogether once it’s gone past spring time. But Nettle is a great source of many minerals and vitamins including; Vitamin A, B, C, D , K and Iron. It’s basically a superfood. Simply cover it with boiled water and leave in the cup to infuse while you drink it. I’d give it 5-10mins before starting.
If those 3 brews didn’t blow your mind here are some more ideas:
Dandelion leaf; one or two leaves per cup and infuse for 5mins
Rosehip; 5 hips per cup, don’t peel them leave them whole (they have hairy seeds inside) and infuse for 10mins
Birch sap; carve a tiny hole through the top layer of bark in a birch and collect the sap, you’ll only need a teaspoon for a cup of tea, infuse for 2min before drinking, seal the tree with clay or mud when you’re finished collecting.
Natasha Richardson is a Herbalist from London, England. She is married to a Californian and frequently visits LA, Yosemite and route 101. Interested in re-igniting your instinctive ability to find wild medicines Natasha runs a mystery medicinal herb subscription course available worldwide. She also has a podcast which follows the herbs studied on the course retrospectively. Her website is www.foragebotanicals.co.uk