Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tea from the Wild – Yarrow

By Jess Hodges

Tea drinking existed long before plantations and even before gardens. The practice of taking plants from the wild to brew drinks for medicinal purposes as well as refreshment has been around for centuries.

In the spirit of recapturing the past and currently forced to do without a garden I'm going to see what I can find from the wilds of Edinburgh to fill my cup with.

The joy of foraging is not only the way it puts you in touch with the seasons and the natural world around you but the way it makes you take a proper look at things. I live next to a huge and regularly mown sports field, on first inspection just a desert of grass. So I was surprised to find my first wild tea growing literally all over it.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a common grassland plant with distinctive feather like leaves. It has a whole host of purported medicinal uses. It contains salicylic acid (aspirin) so it's good for headaches and has also been used as an astringent, a stimulant, to treat circulatory and digestive disorders and to treat eczema, stop bleeding and promote healing. Quite a resume for a tiny plant!

When picked fresh an infusion of Yarrow is really delicious. It's refreshing, slightly grassy a little sweet and there's a hint of lemon there. If you want to store Yarrow you'll have to dry it by laying it out in a low oven until it's completely free from moisture. Drying intensifies the flavour of the tannins in the leaves making it not dissimilar to black tea initially. Then things start to get a bit musty, it's not bad but certainly an acquired taste and nowhere near as good as the fresh stuff, I would recommend adding a little honey to improve the flavour.

For my first foray into the wild world of foraged teas I think yarrow was a real success and definitely one to look out for next time you're out and about.