Friday, July 18, 2008

Tea Time

For Father's Day I received my first tea plant. It is young but I hope I can take care of it, give it some more tea plant friends, and eventually pick the leaves and make green/oolong/black tea (all of which come from the same plant. Each requires different picking/drying/curing standards). Another cool note on the tea plant is that it likes shade. It is generally more difficult to find shade loving food sources so I was excited to read that I can fill shady areas with tea plants. I am pretty sure that Jennifer purchased our plant online (here). Right now I make my tea on the back porch with this beautiful tea jar we got from Target. It will fill 3 old apple juice containers and because the tea never reaches near boiling heat it keeps very well in the fridge (no indigestion from turning bitter which is usually the result of tea being infused in temperatures that are too high). I drink cool tea for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between. That probably sounds like a lot of caffeine but I make the whole jar with about 8 little tea bags. 8 tea bags over a week isn't deadly is it? Tea on the back porch is cheap, energy efficient, and refreshing. Just pick a sunny spot set the jar out before work and bring it in when you get home. Tea is ready!
I am experimenting with tea flavors. Whenever we have peaches or watermelon I cut some chunks and drink my tea with fruit. I also found out that persimmon leaves and strawberry leaves are two traditional tea sources so below is a picture of persimmon and strawberry leaves drying in the shade on a screen. Once they are dry I can crumble them up and accent the green tea with these two nutritious leaves. I have just found out that blackberry leaves are also a source of tea. I will be picking some of these for the drying rack as well.

Last, I am trying to grow several types of mint and spearmint. These plants like moisture and most people plant them around the hose spigot in SC to insure they get lots to drink. I am dying for them to produce enough leaves to take some cuttings and dry these as well. Mint-green is one of my all time favorite teas summer or winter (Thanks Kathy for mint starts).
Last, a request for favorite foraging books and two recommendations. I purchased Peterson's EDIBLE WILD PLANTS (here's a link at Amazon) and have found it to be an amazingly useful book. Not only does it contain useful information about how to search for, collect, and process wild plants it uses a series of very helpful icons to designate each wild plant for flour, tea, coffee, fruit, jam, etc. In the back the book contains an appendix which organizes plants under their use. So, say you want to make tea you can go to this section and find all the names of wild plants useful for tea organized by season no less! Very helpful. The only drawback to this book is that many of us who are not well trained rely heavily on color for identification. Alas, the Peterson's guide presents the majority of its plant presentations in black and white sketch. I find the sketches more useful than pictures because the artist can account for more general features and avoid the contingencies of any one particular photographed plant, but the absence of color makes identification hard for novices like myself. SO, the book worm that I am, I purchased EDIBLE WILD PLANTS by Elias and Dykeman (here's a link at Amazon) which presents each plant in a photograph form. Aah, color. But alas, it does not contain the very useful appendix found in the Peterson's guide. So, my request is this: If any of you have read this far and can think of other edible plant/ foraging guides that you have found user-friendly, comprehensive, or with more specialized focus, I would be very interested to hear about them. And if you are looking for one I find the edible plant hobby cheap, entertaining, enduring, and rewarding.

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