Nine years ago I packed food and video equipment in to a Greenpeace blockade camp in a military zone in the Czech Republic, dodging patrols and slipping up unmapped trails. The goal of the camp was to protect a couple of tree-sitters and thus to occupy a strategic hilltop marked for a US radar base that would put the first foreign troops in the country since the Soviets were kicked out in 1989 and destroy a fragile ecosystem in the process.
I'm delighted to report that Greenpeace and local activists won that fight.
I don't recall our packs containing anything like tea or even coffee when we carried supplies in and maybe this wasn't actually an oversight by the more experienced blockaders. In the end, other than a renewed sense of what can be accomplished by non-violent activists and the unsung little victories of environmental and social justice, I came out of the Brdy Hills with an item I no longer needed to carry in my camping kit - tea.
I'm a tea drinker--herbal, black, green, you name it--and especially on camping trips, a hot drink in the morning is essential, though I can live with or without caffeine. As a result, I have always carefully stocked and refreshed a tea supply in my camping kit and I suffered greatly a few times when it ran out at an inopportune moment.
The Greenpeace campers taught me how incredibly easy it is to forage for tasty, drinkable leaves if you're out in the woods anyway. After learning this, it seems almost silly to pack the stuff.
The basic thing to remember is that if you are used to eating the berries, you can usually brew the leaves. Wild huckleberry, raspberry, blackberry and strawberry leaves make a great base for tea. Raspberry and blackberry taste pretty similar to black tea and you can treat them much the same. But instead of caffeine you'll get an extra dose of iron and other nutrients, which is particularly useful for when you're outdoors and active.
Beyond these, the year's newest fir needles are an excellent addition to make a more fragrant tea. Mint and wild thyme or wild oregano flowers can usually be found as well.
Fresh forage tea is particularly high in nutrients and flavor, and you'll enjoy the break from dried teas. However, there are a few cautions to observe while you're doing this:
- Don't eat or brew plants you can't identify or are not sure are edible.
- Don't eat or brew plants found within a few yards/meters of an established campsite. First of all, the campsite will become stripped. And second, the males of our own species and those of one of our most friendly species (dogs) have a habit of marking the edges of such campsites with their urine. You can't be sure who has been there before you.
- Don't eat or brew plants found within 20 yards/meters of a minor road or 100 yards/meters of a major road. You don't want toxic heavy metals along with your iron supplement.
- Don't pick plants in protected areas, national parks, high mountain meadows or particularly fragile habitats. If planning to camp in these areas, you do need to pack in everything. (And pack everything you brought in out again, of course.)
- When harvesting wild plant leaves for tea, be careful to take only a few leaves from each plant. Don't pull or you may damage the roots. If possible use scissors. Take only what you need. Harvest for future use, only if there is a great abundance of a particular plant and then be careful that you don't damage the plants or topsoil.
- Before harvesting wild plants, sit a moment in the area and get a sense of it. Does it smell right? Do you have a relaxed feeling or an uneasy feeling? Any sense of disturbance or unease you feel could indicate that you should not pick plants there. Human beings are still quite capable of instinctively sensing the health of plants without knowing logically why. The area could be polluted or too fragile and your body might pick up on that.
- Give your thanks to wild plants you harvest from, whether silently or out loud, when you are finished.
Next time you're camping and have access to hot water out in the woods, brew up fresh forage tea and you will have an immediate connection to the local land and the earth itself.