Basic Herbal Tea Making Methods

Making herbal teas is quite possibly one of the easiest activities to do with your foraged finds. On a very basic level, all you really need is a plant and some hot water, and possibly some honey or sugar to sweeten. Herbal Tea making really begins to come into it's own however, when we start experimenting - combining different plants in varying quantities - to find a flavour we really like. This makes tea-making a very personal endeavour that is unique to every maker! Below you'll find two basic methods of tea making - one using fresh ingredients, the other using dried - along with some suggestions of different plants, and combinations, to try.

Fresh Water-Mint tea is very refreshing on a hot summer's day. I like to add some Earl Grey, either in loose-leaf or bag form, for added flavour.

Fresh Herbal Teas

Fresh Herbal Teas are created by steeping various parts of wild plants in just-boiled water and leaving them to infuse their flavour before straining. These are perhaps the easist teas to make, and the quantities to use vary depending on how intense you want your tea to be. Some plants, such as water mint, are very aromatic and just one or two sprigs will yield a full-flavoured beverage. Others, such as Speedwells, are more delicate, and require either a larger quantity, or a longer steeping time to achieve a stronger flavour. The basic method of preparing a fresh herbal tea is as follows:

  1. Harvest and wash healthy wild plants.
  2. Take a teapot and place your fresh plant inside.
  3. Fill your teapot with just-boiled water, stir, and leave to steep for 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the tea into a cup, mug, or heat-safe glass through a strainer.
  5. Enjoy the drink as is, or add sugar or honey to taste.

Dried Herbal Teas

Dried Herbal Teas are created in much the same way as fresh ones, with the only difference being the plant parts are dried prior to being used. Drying tea ingredients often intensifies their flavour, meaning less tea mix is required to get a more potent end result. Drying also allows tea ingredients to be stored for longer periods of time, meaning you can enjoy the tea long after the plants they are made from are no longer in season. With dried ingredients, you can also combine plants from different growing seasons into a single tea blend - something you can't do with fresh ingredients. The basic method of creating and preparing a dried herbal tea is as follows:

Drying Tea Ingredients:

  1. Harvest and wash your healthy wild finds.
  2. Strip the parts you want to dry (e.g. the leaves and/or flowers) from the stems of the plant. Note: For smaller plants, such as Thyme and Heather tops, stripping is often done after drying, as they're less fiddly and therefore easier to detatch once dry.
  3. Place the plant parts in a dehydrator on medium heat for 12-24 hours. Drying can also be done in an oven on it's lowest setting, keeping the door open to prevent over-heating and burning. Oven drying usually takes 1-2 hours, but does sometimes result in wastage.
  4. Grinding-up your dried tea ingredients (e.g. with a pestle and mortar) prior to storage can intensify the flavour, but can sometimes also create bitterness in the finished tea, so is not recommended. Mildly crushing-up larger leaves into small peices by hand, however, is ok.
  5. Store the dried tea ingredients in an air-tight jar, ready for use.

Preparing Dried Teas:

  1. Take a teapot and place 1-2 tspn of your dried tea ingredients inside.
  2. Fill your teapot with just-boiled water, stir, and leave to steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour the tea into a cup, mug, or heat-safe glass through a strainer.
  4. You can also use a hand-held tea strainer, or ball-style tea strainer, directly in the cup instead of a teapot.
  5. Enjoy the drink as is, or add sugar, honey or in some cases, milk, to taste.

Popular Plants to Forage for Fresh or Dried Tea

Below are just some of the wild plants that are popular for tea making amongst foragers. Why not have a go at making your own herbal tea blend using different combinations of these plants? Or perhaps combine one or more of them with your favourite shop-bought loose-leaf tea for a subtle wild flavour boost? For some inspiration, you can see one of our favourite blended creations, inspired by Robert Burns' tea mix of choice, here. If you have an electric dehydrator, you can also dry wild berries along with their leaves to include in your tea creations for some added sweetness or tartness. Good options for this include bilberry, wild strawberry, wild raspberry and blackberry.

Iced Teas

A prepared fresh or dried tea can be left to cool in the fridge, then decanted into a glass with ice to make an iced tea. Some plants, such as Cleavers, can be steeped in cold water in the fridge overnight to create a refreshing flavour-infused cold beverage.

Fermented Teas

A more advanced from of tea making, fermenting tea leaves involves damaging fresh leaves to release their polyphenols, usually performed by rolling between the palms, before leaving them to ferment in a ceramic bowl or jar for a number of days. The fermentation process is then stopped by drying with heat. A number of plant leaves can be fermented in this way, including, raspberry, strawberry and bramble. The most well-known wild fermented tea however, is Russian Koporye Tea, which is made from the leaves of the Rosebay Willowherb plant. A recipe for this, can be found here.

A Word of Caution

Although tea making is very popular among foragers, it is important to note that some plants do have medicinal properties, some of which could interact with natural body processes or any medication that you currently take. Classic examples include, Raspberry Leaf Tea, which should only be taken in the later stages of pregnancy, and St John's Wort, which is well known for interacting with a number of medications. Whilst enjoying the odd wild tea here and there will most likely never lead to any complications, if you are pregnant, on prescribed medication or have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or anxiety and depression, please do check with your doctor or a qualified Medical Herbalist before drinking wild teas to make sure it is safe to do so.