pine needles

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.

Timeline:
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

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

Yes, You Can Find Yummy Wild Edibles in Winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but once the snow, sleet and freezing rain passes and the winds die down, it's time to head out for pine needles, birch bark and rose hips. Some foraged foods are meant to be
harvested in winter.

One advantage of learning how the plants look in all seasons is that you know just where to go when it's time to harvest.

                            Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C.

                            Pine needles are rich in Vitamin C.

Pine needles, the mature leaves of the pine tree, are very high in Vitamin C. They so familiar and accessible that we tend to walk right by them without really paying attention to them. All you need is a handful of pine needles, gathered nearest the trunk, where they are highest in Vitamin C. Making pine needle tea is as easy as boiling water.

                              Beautiful, icy rose hips in winter.

                              Beautiful, icy rose hips in winter.

Rose hips are the seeds of the wild roses have lost their blossoms, the bright red berries, are actually quite palatable after a night below freezing temperatures. I like rose hip tea best, but rose hips can be found in other recipes.

I do not know why the liquid created from the inner bark of the birch tree is called "beer." But common names are typically confusing. Winter is the only time to harvest the flavorful cambium, the layer between the inner bark and the wood, for a delicious beverage.

The technique for harvesting the cambium and preparing this beverage are easy, but you need to follow the procedure to ensure you do not harm the birch tree. This tree is easy to identify even without its leaves, because it has the distinct smell of wintergreen. Birch tree branches that have been broken during a storm are the easiest to harvest. You want a branch that is roughly as thick around as two fingers.  Use a paring knife or your pocket knife to shave the bark. Hold the knife at an angle when you do this and you will be able to see three layers. The outer layer is thin, like paper, the inner layer is the hard wood, and the middle layer is soft and easy to scrape. The soft middle layer, called cambium, is what you will use to make this beverage.

                                                                                                        Birch beer shavings.

                                                                                                        Birch beer shavings.

Winter is the the most challenging time of year to forage for plants. Our ancestors needed a large supply of stored food and remarkable hunting skills to survive winter. Maybe that is why my foraging soul finds pine needles, rose hips and birch bark so precious.