How to forage for wild teas

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

From nettles, to blackberry leaves and lime flowers, Spring is the perfect time to go foraging for wild teas 

When spring is in full swing, it’s a great time to scan the countryside for foragable foods, trying to learn about a few more plants each year, besides gathering some of our old favourites.

If you’re new to foraging then one of the best ways to investigate their flavours is by infusing your pickings in hot water to make teas and infusions—many of them taste delicious and are likely to become an alternative to “proper” tea in your kitchen, with the added benefit than some can bring health benefits too.

To get you in the mood for some wild tea foraging, here are five of our favourite finds…

Nettles

Nettles and nettle tea

You’ll have little trouble finding nettles growing in this country and spring, when the leaves are young, is the best time to pick them. Besides brewing a terrific tea with a green vitality and tannic bite, they can also be cooked like spinach and are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals. If it wasn’t considered a weed (or had a sting) it would be seen as a wonder veg.

Brew it: Pick three fresh green tips (each containing two sets of leaves) and steep in a cup hot water for five minutes or, for an even more intense tea flavour, dry them first and use one teaspoon per cup.

Forager’s tip: Gloves and scissors come in handy when gathering nettles and, like all foraged plants, give them a shake after picking to remove bugs and a quick rinse before brewing.

Lime flower

Lime flower

As spring heats up towards summer, pollinators are attracted to the heady fragrance of lime flowers en masse. It’s also one of our favourite aromas, reminiscent of ripe melons and honey. A tea from these flowers is often consumed for its calming properties and is a regular feature of French cafés where the drink is known as tilleul.

Brew it: Steep one to two teaspoons of lime flowers per cup in hot water for five to ten minutes. You can use the flowers fresh, but we think they’re even better when dried.

Forager’s tip: Lime trees grow to a ripe old age and are often a feature of long-established parks and country estates.

Blackberry leaves

Blackberries

It may be the fruit of the blackberry bush that’s most popular with foragers, but the leaves are not to be overlooked—especially as they make one of the best teas around. Some people even process them in a similar way to “proper tea”, Camellia sinensis, by bruising the leaves and allowing them to oxidise as they dry. 

Brew it: Two to three teaspoons of dry leaves or a small handful of fresh leaves per mug will make a rich tea-like brew when infused in hot water for five to ten minutes.

Forager’s tip: Pick the leaves when they’re young before thick spines start to develop on their underside.

Spruce tips

pine needles

The soft, bright green needles that emerge from papery cases at the tips of spruce and pine tree branches are one of our favourite flavours of the forest. With a fresh taste of zesty pine that’s as vibrant as their colour, they not only make an excellent cup of tea but also come packed with vitamin C.

Brew it: Steep a small handful of spruce tips (around 15) in a cup of boiling water for five minutes. The tea is such a popular drink in Sweden that it has its own name, tallstrunt.

Forager’s tip: Don’t confuse spruce or pine with yew which is poisonous.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

Scan the edges of fields and parks (or the corners of unweeded gardens) and one of the low-lying plants you might discover is Ground Ivy, with dainty blue flowers and green leaves that are often tinged with purple. It’s a member of the mint family, which explains the minty tingle when turned into tea, and has a sage-like herbiness and peppery bitterness.

Brew it: Infuse six to eight fresh leaves, or a teaspoon of dried leaves, in a mug of hot water for five minutes.

Forager’s tip: This plant is rather unheralded in foraging terms so is likely to be unfamiliar to a lot of people, despite its common appearance. Look it up in an identification book or website before picking and brewing.

Wild Tea book

These teas and more brewed from home grown and foraged ingredients feature in our new book Wild Tea, available now.

Read more: Best CBD and Hemp Tea

Read more: Creating an easy-care garden with wild flowers

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter