The old bushcraft adage of ‘the more you know, the less you need to carry’ is especially true when it comes to foraging. And it’s not just about what you can eat but also what you can find to make a tasty hot drink. I’m a big tea drinker and so I’m especially fond of infusions. Very simply, an infusion is where you add hot water to the leaves of a plant and leave it for a few minutes before drinking.
In this post I want to talk about a few woodland herbal teas that I particularly enjoy. Not only are they delicious but many of them also have herbal benefits, so I’ll let you know those as well.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a member of the daisy family growing on the edges of woodlands, in hedgerows and verges. Yarrow is easy to identify with its long, feather like leaves.
To use yarrow as a tea, put a couple of fresh leaves into a cup and add boiling water and let it infuse for at least 5 minutes.
A yarrow infusion is a traditional remedy for colds and fevers as it promotes sweating, which helps to reduce the fever. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to regulate blood pressure.
The woodlands are full of brambles (Rubus) and at this time of year they’re growing incredibly quickly. You can pick the new, young leaves and add them to boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes. The leaves are packed with vitamins and so a bramble leaf tea is good for your general wellbeing. It can also be used to treat diarrhea, mouth ulcers and sore throats.
Nettles (Urtica dioca) are a much maligned plant. As well as being great for making natural cordage, they are an incredibly nutritious plant. They contain 4 times as much iron as spinach as well as minerals such as potassium, magnesium phosphorous and calcium (much more than any shop bought vegetables) and also vitamins A and C, (again, much more than anything you buy in the shops) and a small amount of protein.
Nettle tea is great, I love the taste and it’s also an anti-histamine.
Plantain (Plantago major) grows everywhere but especially favours tracks. The crushed leaf is fantastic for insect bites & stings and allergic rashes. It also has edible roots that are shallow and easy to dig out.
To make a tea, take a couple of leaves and infuse in boiling water 10 minutes. It’s good for coughs, irritable bowels and hemorrhoids.
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has the typical square stem of the dead nettle family. We find it both within the woodland and in some of the surrounding fields, so it seems to tolerate both shade and sun. And mostly we find it creeping along the ground, but sometimes growing more upright.
It’s also known as ‘ale hoof’ as it was used to flavour beer prior to the use of hops; also because its leaves are somewhat hoof shaped. The leaves are generally matt and covered in tiny ‘hairs’.
Add 1 or 2 sprigs to a cup of boiling water and let it infuse for a few minutes. This is one of my favourite woodland teas, and it also has decongestant properties. I also like it mixed with nettle leaves which gives anti-histamine and decongestant properties, so an ideal hayfever remedy.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) has lots of different names, goosegrass, sticky weed, sticky jack, stick willy, sweet heart to name a few. It’s the one that sticks to your jumper. To use as a tea it’s best to collect the tips before the seeds set. Infuse a couple of the tips for 5 to 10 minutes. It has a delicate pea flavour and is a great spring tonic.
OK, not strictly a woodland plant but I do like clover tea, either red or white. This one is best made from dried leaves so collect them when you see them, dry them out and take with you. Add a couple of teaspoons of the dried leaves to a cup of boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes. It can help with both constipation and the flow of urine.
Mallow (Malva sylvestris) is a common plant in southern England and Wales and can be found along the sides of roads and railways as well as on waste ground. Add a couple of young leaves or fresh flowers to a cup of boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes. It’s good for indegestion, IBS, dry, sore throats and constipation.
I hope this helps in your bushcraft adventures, but please remember to forage considerately and sustainably. Take a couple of identification books with you and if you’re not sure, don’t pick it let alone eat it.