Friday, April 18, 2008

Wild Blackberry Leaf Tea

young blackberry leavesSpring is springing and new leaves are starting to grow on shrubs and trees. Some of them make tasty herbal tea, so I went out foraging with my 4-year-old niece Rebecca for wild blackberry leaves.

You don't want to accidentally pick the wrong thing, and leaves are a bit trickier to identify than berries, especially when they're young. So this is perhaps a project for experienced foragers. If you already have your favourite blackberrying spots and you are confident you can identify the correct plants then you'll be fine. But if you haven't foraged before, wait until the late summer or autumn and then go looking for blackberries. There's nothing in the UK that looks anything like a blackberry that might do you any harm, so it's a great first foraging project. Remember the locations of the plants. Have a good look at the leaves and the stems and become familiar with them. Then pick wild blackberry leaf tea next spring.

You want to pick the bunches of young leaves as they emerge. You don't need gloves - you're not going to mess around with the thorny stems. Just grasp the leaves and tug them off. Don't strip all the young leaves off a single stem. You don't want to kill the plant, although brambles (wild blackberry plants) are devilishly tough and could probably survive. But it's good foraging etiquette to just take a couple of bunches of leaves from each stem and then move along.

Rebecca picking dandelionsRebecca and I picked maybe half-a-pint to a pint of bramble leaves before going home. Actually Rebecca only picked one leaf, then ran off and picked some daisies and dandelions for her mum, leaving me to do all the work. I didn't mind, really.

You make wild blackberry leaf tea almost the same way you make ordinary tea - pour boiling water over and steep. There are only two differences. The first difference is that you use more fresh leaves than you could fit in a tea bag. How much leaves for a cup? I'm afraid that's the same sort of question as how long is a piece of string? About yay much. If you use more it will be stronger. Less and it will be weaker. But at any rate, use a lot more than the teaspoon or so you would use of dried leaves. I usually about half fill my tea pot with leaves (not packed, just loosely dropped in) then top it up with boiling water. If you only want to make a single cup, half fill your tea cup with leaves and fill with water.

making blackberry leaf teaThe second difference is that you steep for longer than you would steep normal tea. I'd steep blackberry leaf tea at least half an hour. I've also steeped it a lot longer than that - even a few hours. This time I steeped a jug full for about an hour or so, drank a cup, left the rest steeping overnight, then strained the cold tea into a smaller jug and put it in my fridge.

blackberry leaf tea timeIt's nice hot or cold. I like it better with honey than without. You wouldn't usually add milk, but hey, if you like it that way it's your cup of tea. If you can collect loads of leaves you can dry them and drink wild blackberry leaf tea all year long. After spring the leaves become darker and tougher and don't make such nice tea. But I enjoy it as a spring treat, a fresh taste of the first new greenness of the year.

Update: A reader has reported developing a rash after using this tea. I know that many commercially available herb teas contain blackberry leaves without bearing any warnings, and I can't find any warnings about allergic reactions to blackberry leaves on the internet or in the foraging books I have. I suppose it's possible to have a reaction to anything - I know someone who is allergic to apples but I don't post allergy warnings with apple recipes. If you've never tried blackberry tea before, don't overdo it the first time, and be on the lookout for allergic reactions. I should reemphasise that you must never eat anything you've foraged unless you are totally 100% positive you have identified it correctly.

15 comments:

Nancy J. Bond said...

What a great idea. Who knew? I imagine it's quite good for you, too.

Killi said...

Are blackberries from the same family as raspberries? I was wondering as raspberry leaf tea is used to encourage/hasten birth? I must go find my herbals

Max said...

Could you do the same think for a raspberry plant?

Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com said...

Do you know what it's medicinal properties are? Also, I've just learned (the hard way) that some folks (that would be me, apparently) are allergic to blackberry leaves. It can give you a rash. Boo hoo. :) I'm using aloe on it to make it go away, though, so it's OK. Now I know!

Melanie Rimmer said...

Gosh, Kathryn! I felt really bad when I read this. I hope your rash clears up soon. I've added a warning to the post that someone has had a reaction to this tea, and anyone who hasn't tried it before should be aware. But I've also tried to find any information about possible dangers or warnings against using blackberry leaves and I can't find anything at all, so it does seem to be very rare.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I wish I had read this before I tried to make tea out of fennel. It was very ucky.

Stonehead said...

Ground and roast dandelion or chicory both make good coffees, albeit without the caffeine hit. Chicory is particularly good.

As for the allergic reaction to blackberry tea, could it have been a reaction to something on the blackberries? I wouldn't use anything from any plants found close to roads, non-organic farms or industrial sites, or that may have been sprayed with chemicals (whether deliberately or inadvertently thanks to drift).

As far as allergic reactions to the actual blackberry leaves are concerned, it's a member of the Rosaceae family (roses, almonds, apples, pears, apricots, hawthorn, etc) and specifically of the subfamily Rosoideae (blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cloudberries, dewberries etc). If you have allergic reactions to close relatives of the blackberry, then you may be allergic to them.

Killi said...

I'm reading this drinking dandelion coffee! I must admit to buying it as I haven't any dandelions on my land & the range won't heat its oven to roast the roots & I don't have a grinder :( There must be an easy way of doing it as it's Gypsy coffee. I'll trawl through my collection of Gypsy recipes & see if they can shed light. I'll have to raid other people's dandelion plants: "Honestly, Gard, I REALLY was digging up ONLY dandelions..." My firepit tins & hook are all on my Waqggon in Somerset :(.

Anyone with a low long trailer that fancies a trip to deepest darkest Tipp & can bring a 12' long Bow-Top Vardo over? :) He's heavy.

Melanie Rimmer said...

If you come to my allotment you can have all the dandelions you want. If you know any good recipes for docks, bindweed, and ground elder you can have those too. Especially the ground elder roots, don't forget to take away as many as you can.

dibnah said...

I can't believe you have no dandelions on your land your very lucky.

Stoneheads right I would be very careful where you gather wild food. I know with nettles if they are by a field edge I leave well alone. If the leaves are pale or a yellow colour then they have been sprayed.

Killi said...

No dandelions because of the chickens, goats & horses. Actually there's very little of anything here ~ neither the grass nor the nettles are growing. I keep looking at the small area of barley & even smaller area of oats that are growing under rabbit runs which were sown from handfuls of grain stolen from the chickens in the Autumn & not daring to uncover them for fear that the nanny & her kids or my draught would eat it all, roots & all.

Please, greatest, most wonderfullest food goddess let the grass grow! signed the ducks, goose, pony, horse & Killi...

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