Rose Hip Tea: A Vitamin Rich Drink

My childhood memories of snacking on rose hips, the only berries around in winter, are that they were a delightful trail nibble, with a texture like raisins. It would be decades before I understood that rose hips are a free source of vitamins and a versatile wild food source.

After the wild roses have lost their blossoms, the bright red berries, called rose hips, can be harvested fresh in autumn or dried, actually freeze dried in winter. Rose hips contain more Vitamin C than citrus, and are also rich in Vitamins A, D and E.

                        Rose hips naturally freeze dried by winter

                        Rose hips naturally freeze dried by winter

The fine hairs and seeds in fresh rose hips are not only an unpleasant texture, but it can also irritate the mouth. I wait for Nature to do the work of freeze drying rose hips. One night of below freezing temperatures turns rose hips into a delicious wild food. This is another situation where knowing when to harvest is the difference between having fun and doing chores. The easiest way to enjoy winter gathered rose hips, besides simply snacking on them, is to make tea.

One note about cooking with rose hips: I only use cast iron cookware, but if I had aluminum pots, I would not use them to prepare rose hips, because aluminum destroys the Vitamin C.

When it comes to any kind of berry, different individual bushes produce different tasting fruit. When I find a rose bush with wonderful tasting rose hips, I'll harvest the berries from that bush. Once home, put a pot or kettle of water on the stove and clean any twigs or other items from the the rose hips. When the water comes to a boil, remove it from the heat. Use 2 teaspoons of dried rose hip per cup of boiling water and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. After making tea, push the rose hip pulp through a strainer, add olive oil or butter and enjoy as a side dish.

1-2 Hours Before:
Harvest rose hips
20 Minutes Before
Put water on to boil
Clean and sort rose hips, removing any stems.
15 Minutes Before:
Remove water from heat and steep rose hips

Shopping List
Foraged items:
Dried rose hips two teaspoons per cup of tea

Honey, sugar or other sweetener for tea
Olive oil or butter for side dish
Pot or kettle to boil water


Birch Beer: A Refreshing, Non-Alcoholic Drink

                          Birch Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage

                          Birch Beer is a non-alcoholic beverage

Winter is typically a slow season when it comes to foraged plants. Deciduous trees, the ones that lose their leaves, are at rest in the winter. When it comes to some of the birch trees, this is exactly the right time to harvest the flavorful cambium, the layer between the inner bark and the wood, for a delicious beverage. It is much easier to identify trees when their leaves emerge and when they form flowers and seeds, but winter is a great opportunity to see how the branches grow and what the structure and shape of the tree looks like. Most birch trees have a distinct bark with horizontal markings called lenticels and outer bark that peels in wide strips, making them easy to recognize even without their leaves. Older trees may have darker bark, but you can see the distinct silvery quality of the bark in younger branches. The inner bark of yellow birch and black birch smell like wintergreen when you scratch it. The stronger the smell, the better the birch beer will taste.  

Black birch trees can be mistaken for cherry trees - the bark in both look similar. Only the birch tree smells  like wintergreen. You do not need to peel the the bark from the trunk. In fact, if you did peel the bark completely around the trunk in a circle, you would kill the tree. No, all you need is a few smaller twigs, which can be trimmed with a pocket knife. Often, after a storm, you'll find broken branches in perfect condition for collecting the cambium. Two small, fresh branches growing as far from the trunk as possible, 8-10 inches long and 1/2-inch to 1-inch in diameter, would be enough to make 2-3 quarts of strong birch beer.

Prepare the Birch Bark Shavings
Fill a 2-3 quart container with room temperature drinking water.
Have a cookie sheet handy to collect the pieces that fall as you scrape the cambium.
Cut the outer bark from the branch, exposing the green inner bark.

This is a photo of the shaved inner bark and cambium from a black birch. The idea is to scrape, not cut, so  you end up with greenish and whitish shavings. Use a sharp knife, scrape through the inner bark to the cambium, letting the fluffy pieces fall onto a cookie tray. Gather the scraped inner bark and cambium. Immerse it in room-temperature water. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours. The brew should range from amber to dark brown. Add more inner bark, if necessary. Strain solids. I use a coffee filter, but a strainer or cheese cloth will also work and add equal amounts of maple syrup. For carbonation, add seltzer water.                                                                                                                                 

Note: You need to scrape the cambium as soon after you harvest the branches as possible. Do not let the branches dry out. Once you immerse the cambium in liquid and then strain it, birch beer can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
4-6 Hours Before:
Harvest two small, fresh birch branches up to 1" diameter, 8"-10" long
Collect 1-2 handfuls of small, fresh twigs
Fill container with room temperature drinking water
Scrape cambium on to cookie sheet
Add cambium to water
1-2 Hours Before:
Remove from refrigerator and strain liquid
Add 1 cup grade B or 2 cups Grade A syrup and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
5-10 Minutes Before:
Add carbonation if desired

Shopping List
Foraged items:
2- small, fresh birch branches, up to 1" diameter, 8-10" long
1-2 handfuls of small, fresh match stick size twigs
Pantry Items:
Drinking water
Maple syrup
Seltzer (optional)
Kitchen Items
Strainer or coffee filter or cheese cloth
2-3 quart water container
Cookie sheet

Beverages, Recipe Revamps

Pine Needle Tea: A Fragrant Winter Warm Up

Pine trees are truly magical. You find them growing in urban, suburban and rural environments, yet their familiar presence is quite often overlooked.

                                           Pine Needle Tea is the perfect winter treat

                                           Pine Needle Tea is the perfect winter treat

I grew up playing outdoors in all seasons. Building snow shelters, finding foraged foods, following animal tracks, and sledding all kept me busy and engaged.

Winters with light fluffy snow are magical. Winters with wet dense snow or sleet that encases every surface in ice are the ones where I really feel the cold. As I got older and more focused on honing my skills, I began to appreciate just how many foraged foods are there to take the chill out of winter.

The mature leaves of the pine tree are called needles. They are easy to harvest. You only need a few. Pluck a handful of pine needles nearest the trunk, where they are highest in Vitamin C. You'll need about 10 pine needles per cup.

Once you get home and you drop the fragrant needles in water that has come to a boil, it's a full sensory experience. The warmth and the aroma feel like a hug. The light, sweet flavor feels comforting on the tongue and all the way to the tummy.

1-2 Hours Before
Gather 10 pine needles per cup of tea, put in a container to carry home
10 Minutes Before
Bring a pot or kettle of water to a boil.
5 Minutes Before
Chop pine needles.
Use a strainer and large pot or tea ball/tea bags for individual cups
Put pine needles in the large pot or tea balls, tea bags, cheesecloth
When water is boiling, turn off heat and remove from stove top.
Pour the water over the pine needles.
2 Minutes Before
Taste the mixture. Let it steep longer for a stronger taste.
Strain or remove the pine needles from the water.
Drink as is or add sweetener of your choice.

Shopping List
Foraged Items:
Pine needles growing nearest the trunk

Tea bags, tea balls, cheesecloth, gauze
Tea kettle or large saucepan
Tea pot, mugs or cups
Honey, sugar or any sweetener