Make Tea From “Weeds” and Plants in Your Yard
While I love to grow herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes, there’s something I love even more about foraging and harvesting herbs from the wild. Maybe with all the uncertainty in the world, it gives me peace to know what plants I have around me that I can use for nourishment and medicine.
The very easiest and foundational herbal medicine method is to make tea. Tea making is a great place to begin one’s medicinal herbal or wildcrafting journey–and where I began mine. And wildcrafting and foraging can begin in your own yard. (Of course, if you have used chemicals in your yard in the last couple of years, you may want to forage elsewhere. Few farmers or neighbors will have an issue with you harvesting what they consider to be weeds from their lots. Ask around. And, of course, always ask if they use chemicals in their yards. If you see a lot of weeds or wild plants besides grass, you can be pretty sure that at least, they don’t use weed-killers.)
Each of us across North America will likely find some different plants in our own yards. I live in the mid-Atlantic region at about 2000 feet in elevation. Yards–even within miles of each other– has its own set of wild plants. But guess what the one constant has been. Dandelions! Haha. The poster child for weeds in America!
- Learn Your Local Plants
- Which Common Lawn Weeds can be Used to Make Tea?
- More wild plants that make good tea:
- Making Wild Herbal Tea Taste Good
- How to Make the Best Herbal Tea
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Learn Your Local Plants
First what you will want to do is to explore your area. Maybe wait a little longer to mow your lawn and see what plants start popping up above the grass. Or part the grass and see what is growing below. Maybe you can have a patch in your yard that you let grow. Check which plants are sprouting up in your flower beds or around your trees. Get a good plant identification book for your area and start looking up plants. Perhaps join the Facebook group, “Plant Identification,” for when you get stumped on a plant. Take a local foraging hike. Join HerbMentor and start reading the Monographs.
Spring is a good time to start gathering herbs for teas. In my yard, I have plants that start growing before the grass really takes off. Plants like Violets and Chickweed. Next come the Ground Ivy, Dandelions and Cleavers. Later the white clover, red clover, Self-Heal, Ox-eye Daisies and Yarrow.
You may also like my article: Extensive Visual Guide to Common Edible Flower Blossoms
Which Common Lawn Weeds can be Used to Make Tea?
Violet leaves and violet flowers can both be harvested for a nutritious and healing tea. Related to the Pansy flower, violets are very common in our yards and most areas in the U.S. have several native species which look very similar and can be used interchangeably. They have heart-shaped leaves, grow low to the ground, and have purple flowers, though some are yellow or white. In the early spring, I have purple violets in my yard. In later spring in the shade near the woods, I have white Viola canadensis, which doesn’t have the heart-shaped leaves. If you find a purple violet that has a lovely smell, you have likely found Viola odorata, which will flavor your tea the best. (**Please note that I don’t mean African violets that are grown as houseplants!)
This year I have been paying attention to Ground Ivy. Ground Ivy is known by several names, one being Creeping Charlie, and it has crept up into my herb garden and I have let it grow. It’s gorgeous with delicate purple flowers and little leaves. I’m not sure why it isn’t sold a ground cover. I have it growing all around my yard near trees, over a large rock and in the yard. So I have been harvesting it while it is flowering by clipping a couple of inches off the top and laying it out to dry. I learned that Ground Ivy tea is useful for tinnitus and I already have one friend and one relative asking for some. So I will be harvesting and drying this throughout the season. Be sure to dry this on a solid surface as the tiny flowers fall of while drying.
It’s important that you look this one up and get to know it. There are lots of similar low-growing plants with tiny purple flowers growing at the same time as Ground Ivy. Be sure to check with a book or a trusted website. I have found numerous photos online labeled ground ivy that are a different plant altogether.
Last year I fell in love with Self-Heal. Prunella Vulgaris sounds like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters to me and I had to get to know her. I discovered that she can ease a sore throat in a very short time! When I see Self-Heal starting to bloom in my yard, I wait until just before the yard will be mowed and I go out and harvest the flowering stalks. Self-heal is another low-growing plant with purple flowers that will bloom down low amidst the grass if your lawn is mowed regularly, so watch for it mid-summer.
Dandelions are so infamous and so visible that I almost didn’t mention it, but Dandelions are worth our attention! Being nutritive and medicinal, the whole plant can be harvested for tea. I discovered this year that if you start picking the Dandelion flowers, the plant loves you and produces more and more! It’s almost difficult to keep up. As soon as I stopped, it seemed that all the plants went to seed at once. So if you want lots of Dandelion blossoms, you won’t need lots of dandelion plants–you just need to pick the blossoms daily until you are satisfied. I have found the leaves to not be very bitter this spring even through the blossoming time. For a more bitter tea (used for digestive issues), harvest the leaves and roots later in the year.
Clovers of all types are wonderful for teas. The leaves can be used as well as the yummy blossoms. My yard has a lot of white clover, but red clover sneaks into my flower beds and I let it stay! While you can make tea from the whole upper part of the plant, I like to pluck the more delicate tasting blossoms off to use as tea. Have you ever taken a clover blossom and sucked the sweet nectar out of each individual part? You only get a bee’s mouthful, but it is sweet and delicious.
More wild plants that make good tea:
So many wild plants, blossoms and berries are delicious for making tea. If you’re lucky enough to have them in your yard or if you live by a country road or the edge of a woods where you can forage, then I encourage you to experiment with them, following a guide book like the Peterson’s Field Guide, Edible Wild Plants.
You can use the leaves, blossoms and berries alone or mix them together to make your own blends.
Teas are generally better when made with dried ingredients (with the exception of lemon and honey), so dry your leaves, flowers and berries to use later on.
This mild and nutritive plant pops up early in the spring and makes a great spring tonic tea. You can use the whole arial parts.
Another spring herb, cleavers bring a very grassy and nutritional element to your tea blend.
I admit that I haven’t tried this one. It seems to be such a happy home for little ants and critters and it’s hard to get rid of them. But you can add the blossoms to your tea blend.
A favorite for adding to medicinal herbal teas to fight infection. (Be careful with this one if you are allergic to ragweed as they are related.)
Wild Berry Leaves and Berries:
Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and Cranberries can all make delicious teas. I especially like Raspberry leaf tea as it tastes like a very fine black tea, to me, except that it is herbal.
Roses and Rosehips:
The stronger the rose smell, the better the tea will taste, from my experience. And be sure to remove the seeds from the rosehips before using them. As they are related to apples, they, too, have a small number of cyanogenic glycosides in the seeds.
Wintergreen leaves and berries
Wintergreen tastes just like wintergreen gum or candy. It makes a fun-tasting tea that may also calm your tummy.
The wild mints that I have found are usually much milder than the ones you would grow in your garden. Unless you come across wild peppermint, spearmint, or catnip, which I have. Those make some delicious tea!
I enjoy the mild taste of the White Pine and it is very easy to identify with its long, soft needles of five in a bunch. Needles from most other pine trees can be used to make tea as well but do not use Ponderosa Pine or Norfolk Island Pine which are poisonous.
If you have stinging nettles growing near you, you probably avoid that area. But nettles are one of the most nutritious plants we have. Use gloves to pick them and let them dry. Once dry, the stinging part is gone.
Sassafras Leaves and Root Bark
The inner layer of sassafras bark tastes like delicious root beer and makes a fun tea to eat on occasion. The leaves are very mild. I like to pick them in the fall to dry and make tea. I feel like I’m drinking fall in a mug.
Making Wild Herbal Tea Taste Good
Just because you CAN make a tea out of a plant, doesn’t mean it will taste good. Many wild teas taste sort of like grass or just green, and it helps to add some flavors if you want it to be more interesting. Our western palates tend to rely on heavy sweeteners and fruity flavors, so the mild or bitter taste of wild herbs will seem foreign to us. There are ways to use herbs, spices, or foods from your pantry to make your teas taste more pleasing. A couple of my favorites are cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel. (Think Constant Comment tea!) I often will add some mint leaves to my tea blend and adding lemon and/or honey to your tea makes it taste yummy, too.
How to Make the Best Herbal Tea
Drying the Tea Leaves
By drying the leaves and flowers of the plants, you help to break down the cell walls and remove the water. Then when you make your tea, it can easily infuse the hot water with it’s nutritional and medicinal qualities very easily. Berries can either be dried or fresh, cut up or squeezed to get the juice out. It’s up to you. To preserve the berries, of course, it is best to dry them for making tea throughout the year.
Making the Perfect Cup of Herbal Tea
This is how I have learned to make the perfect cup of herbal tea and Nicole at Oma Herbal Teas does the same.
- Bring your water to a boil. Some like to stop it just before it becomes a rolling boil when it just has little bubbles on top.
- While your water is heating up, take your herbs and crush what you plan to use. Crushing releases the volatile oils and biochemicals which contain flavor, aroma, and nutrients in the tea.
- Measure 1 Tablespoon of herbs per cup or 8 ounces of water.
- Put the herbs in a tea strainer or tea bag.
- Pour the hot water over the tea and cover the cup to keep the volatile oils in.
- Steep for about 10 minutes. You want enough time for the oils to disperse into the water. Some herbs, like chamomile, for instance, will start turning more bitter if you steep them longer.