Wild Woodland Brew
There’s nothing like breathing in the richness of the forest while waking up to the beauty all around us. Witnessing dawn erupting in shades of magenta and gold over the horizon while immersed in the taste of the pine trees and oak forest is an incomparable experience that even the most hardcore coffee junkies should take a morning to gift themselves with.
No, it won't send you out of the door in 30 seconds or less on an adrenalin high from hell, or keep you awake for that all nighter you're about to pull. Instead, it's more likely to center you in the present, open up your lungs and your heart to the possibilities of the day, while warming your limbs and bringing the forest into your body and soul.
I have chosen common woodland plants for this aromatic and wild brew – herbs easily collected in sizable quantities by even children, especially for those living in the American West. The herbs are rich in antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients. It's fairly neutral in temperature, mildly warming and circulatory stimulating, and is unlikely to push anyone’s constitutional buttons. It can easily be warmed up with some Ginger root, Calamus or something similar or made a bit cooler and more relaxing with the addition of Rose hips, Cherry bark or Peach leaves.
My directions include how to make teas separately from each of the plants and then how to blend them together for a delicious and complex brew. I do this because, for one thing, each of these plants make excellent beverages on their own and secondly, because you may desire to use the acorns you decoct for tea to make some acorn meal for other goodies and may not want them pine flavored.
Pine, Spruce or other Resinous Conifer Needles
I love our scraggly Piñon Pines that grow in near desert conditions and jut from sand and cliffside with equal ease. These trees can produce huge crops of the tasty and fat-laden pine nuts they are know for as well as a sticky resin that’s makes a multipurpose medicine for salves, cough syrups and tinctures. But in this case we’re going for the green, sweet smelling needles. Depending on your particular spp. your Conifer (from Engelmann Spruce to Eastern Hemlock to White Pine to Douglas Fir) will have varying levels of sweetness, citrus overtones, resinous qualities and flavor strength. Their flavor also changes with the season and growth stage, as well as locale and exposure to sunlight, so nibble around and find your favorite scent and flavor before harvesting a few small branchlets to bring home and try. As a rule, the stronger, the better!
The needles can be used fresh or dried, but if you live in a place where they’re common like I do, you might want to collect them fresh every few days (or every morning), just as I do. I use the needles as well as the chopped up branchlet stem/bark. Use about a large handful of chopped plant per 2-3 cups water, and simmer for at least fifteen minutes, or until you can’t wait any longer to taste it. Depending your spp. you may need more or less plant matter, there’s so much variation in strength that personal experimentation is the only way to come up with a workable recipe for each person. Delicious and refreshing all on its own, all day long.
Preferably a SW variety such as Evergreen, Emory, Gambels’ or something similar. Southwestern Acorns are naturally sweet, with very little bitterness and a rich, dark taste reminiscent of a cross between hazelnuts, chocolate, coffee and the wildwood in autumn. Most people think of Oaks as beacons of strength and stability but they are also sensual treasures. Our Evergreen Oaks are usually gnarled and twisty, curving into wild shapes reminiscent of flowing water, but elementally earthen and growing from spiraling roots that weave between rocks and through narrow crevices. Our Acorns are small, smooth and a beautiful shade varying between golden brown and nearly chocolate in color. The taste is awe-inspiring and without peer among any of the nuts I’ve ever eaten, and adds a wonderful complexity and depth to breads, cakes, chocolate, as well as many beverages and stews.
We simply gather our acorns in Autumn, roast them in the oven until dark and dry in the shell, and then crack and use as needed. If you live somewhere other than the SW, you may need to leach your acorns in running or boiling water before roasting and using.
Once the acorns are roasted, you just take a handful, place in a small pot and cover with about three cups of water and boil until the water is a dark, muddy brown and smells like heaven on a stovetop, usually about 20-40 minutes. It also tastes amazing on its own or blended with Cherry bark or Ginger.
Juniper/Red Cedar Berries.
By which I mean edible Juniperus spp. The small, very dark berries that are juicy and sweet, not the giant, hard, empty ones that don’t taste like anything. These little fruits are VERY strong, and you don’t need much. I gather ripe berries in Autumn and dry for use as needed. Some years there will be tons left on the trees even at the end of Winter and some years, they’ll be gone by October. They taste spicy, strongly aromatic and somewhat bitter. They’re wonderful for flavoring meat and making sauces, in addition to their myriad medicinal uses.
Even if you don’t normally care for Juniper’s very strong flavor, when used in the small proportion listed here, you’ll find that it adds a nutmeg-y like flavor, a hint of spice that add subtle warmth and complexity to the finished brew. Whatever you don’t drink, you can add to a sauce or stew. You can use 5-7 berries per 1 cup of water, infuse for ten minutes in just boiled water. In most cases, even this will be really really strong.
Rain or Spring Water.
Ok, it doesn’t need to be rain water, but when making a tea of these amazing wild plants, it’s best to use the highest quality, wildest water you can find to complete the magic.
Maple/Birch Syrup or Wildflower Honey.
If using honey, it may be preferable to choose a light, delicately flavored variety.
Cream or the Nut/Seed Milk of your choice.
A splash (or two) is optional, but delicious.
Ceramic or other beautiful Vessel
Now, to put it all together.
Just use 1 cup Pine tea and 1 cup Acorn tea plus about 1 tsp of Juniper tea.
Then add cream and either maple/birch syrup or honey to taste, because the Pine and Acorns are both naturally sweet, very little sweetener is generally needed.
Sit down somewhere near a window or outside and sip slowly, enjoying the emerging morning and the flavors of the forest blooming on your tongue. Simple. Wild. Delicious.
Optional additions and/or Substitutions:
A small handful of Chokecherry bark to either the Acorn or Pine brew.
A handful of Rosehips to the Pine tea.
Roasted Dandelion/Chicory in addition to or instead of Acorns. Be aware though, that Chicory (probably due to the inulin) can cause varying degrees of upset belly, and that both herbs are strong diuretics and not necessarily appropriate for those with cold constitutions or low blood pressure.