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Trees, Lichen & Fungi: Teas in February

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Tea is the perfect theme for this month’s Wild Things Roundup. I truly love tea—it’s an art and, sometimes, a form of therapy.

In the depth of Winter, we confront dark, hard, uncomfortable things. I doubt I’m the only one recovering from the turmoil of 2012, ducking from the seasonal bugs whizzing through our communities, and trying to find solace & a silver lining from the horrific events we’ve witnessed in the last few months.  It’s been a rough few months, I won’t lie. But tea—well, that makes everything a bit better.  Teas (infusions & decoctions) make available some very useful compounds to rebalance our physiologies. But they’re also satisfying, comforting & soulful.

During Winter, I embrace the medicine of the trees, lichen, and fungi. I suppose part of it is out of necessity; there just isn’t much else in the way of aerial plant parts. But it’s the upward movement & verticality of tree medicine—the promise of new growth in a season of fog, mist, and pooling water—that lifts my spirits. For that reason, tree tips, branches & leaves find their way into many of this season’s botanical preparations. I use them in teas, baths, foot baths, infused oils & vinegars, and honeys.

Some of my favorite tea blends include:

  • Usnea/Chaga/Ashwaganda root/Reishi fruitbody/Devil’s club stem bark/Spruce tips/Osha root (pictured above)
  • Hawthorn berry/Devil’s club/Rose petals
  • Usnea/Douglas fir tips/Hawthorn berry/Reishi fruitbody/Astragalus root/Laborador tea leaves
  • Chaga/Osha root chai
  • Hawthorn berry/Rosehip chai
  • Usnea/Balsamroot chai (can you tell I enjoy chai teas?)

All of these are prepared as a decoction. (See previous post in tea making.) Regarding amounts: I never measure. A pinch of this & that, eyeball the amount of water. I really only use measurements when I’m making lotions & creams, tinctures, and solid extracts. For infused oils, water infusions, decoctions, vinegars, honeys & salves, I don’t bother. I think those products fare better when you rely on your senses. For a little brush up, here’s a very speedy summary of some of the herbs named above:

  • Usnea (Usnea spp): A lichen known for its antimicrobial constituents. Becoming increasingly rare in the Pacific Northwest; only gather that which has been blown down from a storm.
  • Aswaganda (Withania somnifera): Grounding, calming adaptogen. Helps restore thyroid & adrenal function.
  • Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum): Expectorant, adaptogen, blood sugar modifier. Known by many as a warrior plant & heart protector.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): Warming immune tonic, wei qi restorative, liver & cardiovascular tonic.
  • Labrador tea (Ledum groelandicum): Also known as Swamp Tea, Indian Tea, Marsh Tea. Traditionally enjoyed by Salish peoples for a variety of purposes. Aromatic, slightly spicy, excellent in decoctions with hawthorn berry, Devil’s club, and Reishi.
  • Hawthorn berry (Crataegus spp.): Cardiovascular tonic, nervine (thanks 7Song!), adds a very pleasant semi-tart taste to teas.
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Immune support, anti-oxidant. Currently being studyes for anti-mutagenic & chemopreventive properties. Bitter & dark, used in Russia as a coffee substitute.
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Immune support, liver & cardiovascular tonic. Long history of use in TCM for lungs/heart. A true adaptogen & effective anti-inflammatory. See previous post. 
  • Osha root (Lingusticum porteri): Upper respiratory expectorant, aromatic bitter, Bear medicine.
  • Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): Helpful as a respiratory tonic, low-grade chronic/dry cough. Good on its own as a tea, but plays well with others. Has a tart, lemony flavor. High volatile oil content, many of which are antimicrobial & anti-inflammatory.

So as I recover from one of Winter’s many middle fingers—the stomach flu—with a hot cup of ginger/lemon/honey tea at my side, I invite you to deepen & beautify your tea making practice. It’s good, sacred & brings you home to yourself.

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