Monday, October 26, 2009

Tea, or Tisane

Over the last year, we have been gathering leaves, flowers, and roots and drying them for teas to drink during the winter. One of Robert's favorites is linden(Tilia americana). He is familiar with another species of linden
(Tilia cordata) that grows in Europe. The leaf-like lighter green bract is collected in late spring when the flowers are open, and dried in a dark place to brew a tisane, or herbal tea. The tisane is light yellow-green with floral qualities, lovely sweetened with honey. The flowers contain antioxidants and mucilaginous properties which can reduce inflammation, sooth coughs and sore throats, and relieve anxiety related indigestion. The linden found in America has other medicinal properties found in the wood, leaves, flowers, the nutlets produced after the flowers and the charcoal from burned wood. I believe there is a European specimen at Harkness Park in Waterford, where we were gathering some bracts.

Pine needle tea can be made at any time of year, and we don't bother to gather or dry the needles, they are better fresh. The younger, long needles from white or red pines work best. Grab a handful of the needles and coarsely chop them. Using a basic formula of one part needles to two parts water, add boiling water and steep 15-30 minutes to get a clear tisane that smells like a deep pine forest in winter, so clean and fresh. It can be sweetened. Pine needle tea provides vitamin C, is a cough soother, and can relieve heartburn. You can add the tea to a warm bath for a relaxing soak. Pine needles here in the Eastern US are all safe to make tea from, with the exception of yew.

Another tasty tisane can be made from sassafras(Sassafras albidum). The leaves make a nice tisane, but the roots need to be simmered 20 minutes to make an amber decoction. The roots can be gathered and dried for storage in the winter, when the ground is frozen and you can't dig fresh roots. Sassafras is easily identified by the 3 different leaf shapes that are present on each tree--a three lobed leaf, a two fingered "mitten" leaf, and an oval leaf. When scratched, the bark gives off a pleasant and distinct odor. Sassafras reproduces saplings from a parent tree, and usually there are large amounts of small trees surrounding the parent tree for easy gathering of roots. We just yank the whole sapling from the ground and bring home the root, then dry the shaved root bits in a dark place. The taste of the decoction is root beer-like. The tisane and decoction are used as a blood detoxifier and spring tonic. There are lots of sassafras trees located in Mohegan Park here in Norwich, and we planted a letterbox there, Foraging Sassafras.

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