Tea for the Wintertime
A few weeks ago the land hosted our Winter Survival (MS) & Fire Gnomes (k-5) vacation camps. Romping proceeded in usual Crow’s Path fashion, but with the warm spell early on in the week all thoughts of building snow shelters and tracking perfectly compressed raccoon trails became wishful thinking. Instead the many new invitations that arose with the warm temperatures were taken up by the kiddos. Still, though, there were a few winter festivities we got to partake in, including the impromptu woodland tea party!
Alas, how can one have a fine tea party without any tea? Turning to the landscape during winter, one may feel a sense of dismal disappointment, looking around at the bare shrubs and detritus-covered ground. If you’re lucky enough to have a keen Field School-er around, they’ll quickly turn that frown upside down and point you to some of our favorite plants to harvest from (with gratitude!) for tea.
Next, you will find the recipe for this medicinal and scrumptious tea followed by some medicinal qualities, a few notes on the plants key characteristics for identification and where to find them, and a challenge for you (yes, YOU)!
Pinywobble’s Winter Tea
Let steep for 10-15 minutes covered (if possible) to hold in the volatile oils that contain the medicinal goodness!
A Medicinal Wintertime Tea…
This tea is LOADED with vitamin C and a bit of Vitamin A, helping build immunity during the cold and flu season, and can help lessen the duration of an illness if it has already set-in. The hemlock you’ve brewed has an affinity for the lungs and is helpful for wet, boggy coughs as well as an overall tonic for the respiratory system.
Let’s locate and identify!
All of these plants are evergreens, and therefore can be harvested any time of year. Also, it makes identification a bit more straightforward, since you always have their needles to help find distinguishing characteristics.
First, we turn to the Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). If you look closely at their spray-like needles, you will notice that they come in fascicles of five. One helpful hint for remembering this identification quality is that W-H-I-T-E has 5 letters, and there are 5 needles in each bundle!*** These trees are quite common in Vermont, and can be found in moist woods, especially on sandy soil and uplands, but develops best on fertile, well-drained soils. They can be great for climbing, too!
Our next ingredient is the Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Like the white pine, this is a common evergreen found in our forests, growing in a distinct pyramidical shape and often in moist, cool sites. The dark green needles are short, only ⅜-⅝” and grow in 2 rows off the branch with 2 white lines below. They are flat, flexible, and rounded at the tip. They can sometimes be confused with the poisonous Yew (Taxus spp.) trees; a simple way to differentiate between the two is the lack of white stripes on the bottom of the Yew, as its needles are dark green both above and below.
In swamps, along streams, on mountain slopes and in old pastures where the soil is moist, you are likely to find the relatively common Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis). This beautiful tree has dark green small scale-like needles (2mm long) that overlap forming flattened rope-like shoots in plants. This tree is a favorite food for white-tailed deer and rouses a sense of ancient magic in the twisting roots that cling to the vulnerable cliff edges at Rock Point.
Last to the mix is our dear American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). This is a low-growing perennial evergreen that may be foraged year-round. Wintergreen enjoys acidic soil, covering the ground in a thick carpet of oval or elliptical, shiny leaves that are about 2” long. In late summer, it forms a red berry at the base of its leaves. You can also always use your nose and crush the leaves to ensure proper identification. If it doesn’t smell like wintergreen, it sure ain’t wintergreen.
You, yes you, who reads this little note! We invite you to go out and experiment with your senses and make yourself a hot cup of Pinnywobble’s Winter Tea. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the tree spirits of your surroundings, empathize with the taste buds of a deer, or enjoy with a friend who, too, finds a sense of home in the woods.
***This trick can be done with R-E-D pine too (Pinus resinosa) which has 3 letters and 3 needles in each bundle a.k.a. fascicle.