Cooking Wild Recipe: Wild Winter Teas

A cup of “Bush Tea” is a sure-fire way to warm up on frosty trails.

Whether you’re rabbit hunting in the frozen hollows, exploring backcountry on snowshoes or huddled in your hut hard-water fishing, nothing rids the shivers better than a steaming cup of wilderness tea. Regardless of terrain, even in the dead of winter, there’s a “pick for the pot” guaranteed to take the chill out of your bones!

Gathering wild tea, or “Bush Teas,” as dad and I dubbed them when I was a kid learning how to forage, is a fun hobby that can be enjoyed year-round. Even though there’s more plants to choose for the teapot in greener seasons, winter offers its share of bush teas that are not only excellent to warm up with but also dependable Old World cures for treating a host of everyday ailments — especially those prone to strike in winter like cold and flu.

To be politically correct the word tea refers to the leaves of the tea plant, camellia sinensis, which is native to Asia. Infusions made from wild plants and garden herbs are properly known as tisanes or herbal teas and unlike real teas, they are caffeine-free.

Since evergreens are verdant when the rest of the forest is dormant in winter, conifers are healthful picks for the pot being rich in vitamin C. Outdoor enthusiasts should keep this in mind, as evergreen teas are valuable in a survival situation. North American First Nations tribes used these teas (as well as the bark) as foodstuff.

There’s no need to fret if you can’t tell one conifer from another, as all evergreens are drinkable! Of course, for the fun of it, why not tote a pocket guide and get positively acquainted with the tree stands on your stomping grounds.

To make evergreen teas, use three or four small branches with needles attached per cup of water. Put branches in cup or pot if making more than one serving, pour boiling water over top and steep until desired strength is reached — the longer the stronger. A small blister of hardened gum or resin can be added to the pot for extra potency when using the tea medicinally. Needles should remain on the spent branches when poured but you can strain if necessary.

Below are a few winter bush teas to warm up with on the trail or to take home and steep in front of the fire — in which case you may wish to sweeten with honey and add a shot of brandy for good measure.

Balsam

Inhaling the soothing vapor breaks up congestion. It eases sore throat and is good cure for cold and flu. Balsam tea tastes like Buckley’s Mixture — the famous Canadian cough syrup.

Spruce & Pine

Very rich in vitamin C, these were credited with saving explorers and pioneers from dying of scurvy in the winter when fresh greens were scarce. Helps relieve cold and cough symptoms. Used in the old days to treat tuberculosis, whooping cough, asthma and rheumatism.

Juniper Tea

Use a few crushed berries per cup for gin-scented tea, good for treating indigestion and sore throat. Drink in moderation and since First Nations used it to induce labour, pregnant women should avoid this tea.

Rosehip Tea

Nourishing hips cling to branches all winter long and are considered a number one survival food rich in vitamin C and other nutrients. Use a small handful of whole hips per cup. Cover with boiling water, steep 10 minutes. When the cup is empty, outside flesh of hips can be eaten for a boost of energy but seeds should not be consumed as the bristly hairs may cause irritation to mouth

Birch Twig Tea

Put a handful of twigs in pot, boil until amber. This sweet tea is good for chilblains. More potent towards end of winter and early spring when sap is rising.

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