Anyone with a penchant for supping herbal teas will know that some of the blends found on supermarket shelves can be pretty pricey, but it’s easy enough to forage your own ingredients for a nice healthy brew if you know what to look for. Flowers are one of our favourite things to plunge into hot water but you may well ask yourself ‘What flowers can you use for tea?’. Below you will find three tasty, easily recognisable varieties to stuff in your tea caddy – just make sure you follow our Five Golden Rules of Foraging before you head out with your swag bag…
Mind where you pick
The laws governing foraging are quite indistinct, with grey areas aplenty. The UK’s countryside act states that foraging on common land is acceptable as long as it is for personal use, but local by-laws may override this. Wandering over private property without permission is, of course, trespass and you should steer well clear of nature reserves, conservation areas and areas of scientific interest. Use common sense when foraging and, wherever possible, seek permission first.
Mind what you are picking
Some plants are lethal to ingest, and there are countless horror stories of foraging folk undergoing hospital treatment after gobbling a wrongly identified plant. You may also unwittingly tug up a protected plant species, so be 100% sure of your quarry.
Pick with moderation
Don’t descend on and decimate your plant-y prey like a plague of locusts – leave plenty left behind for the birds, insects and mammals to enjoy. It is, after all, their pantry you are raiding.
Wash before use
Insects, insecticides and pollution are not conducive to a nice cup of tea. Rid your wild plants of contamination – visible or otherwise – before using. Discard anything that looks rotten or pongs.
Avoid low-level picking on pathways
Wild plants that live beside public thoroughfares will be at the mercy of every passing pooch. Always forage higher than a dog can cock its leg.
Three wild plants to forage for the perfect herbal tea blend
You’ll find this wispy-haired member of the rose family growing in hedgerows, on cliff tops and in damp meadows. The name Meadowsweet is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word medesweete as the plant was once used in the making of mead, the heady, honey-based booze renowned for bestowing fearful hangovers on the inexperienced imbiber.
Meadowsweet is an easy white flower to spot, thanks to the white frothy blooms billowing forth from tall reddish stems. Its sweet, almond-like scent is also a dead giveaway, which becomes more intense and pronounced after picking – you’ll certainly notice a pleasing pong as the flowers sit drying on your kitchen window.
How to brew meadowsweet tea
Meadowsweet tea is taken more for the perceived health benefits than for taste, but we think there’s a certain understated charm to its subtle, straw-like flavour. Add one teaspoon of dried flowers to a cup of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 minutes then strain before drinking.
Gorse (also known as whin or furze) is a large, prickly member of the pea family, prized by the forager for its egg yolk yellow flowers that can impart a distinctive coconut flavour to drinks and syrups. Gorse produces flowers all year round, so with a bit of searching (and providing you like the distinctive flavour that the flowers impart), your tea mug need never run dry.
With its bright yellow flower heads contrasting against the dark foliage, gorse in bloom is easy to spot. It flourishes in poor soil conditions and is a common sight on heathland, roadsides, cliffs and fields. Foraging for gorse flowers can be painful business thanks to the plant’s fearsome thorns, so we suggest using a pair of long-nosed scissors to snip the blooms directly into your swag bag.
How to brew gorse flower tea
Gorse has enjoyed a long history as a flavouring for a variety of alcoholic drinks and syrups. You’ll find gorse flowers used as an adjunct in wines, beers and whiskies, and nowadays you’ll often spy it accompanying more traditional botanicals in fancy gins. To make a tasty (and far more healthy) cup of tea, take one teaspoon of gorse flowers, add them to a cup of boiling water and let them steep for 10 minutes before straining. Alternatively, let your brew cool and add ice and a slice of lemon for a subtle summertime sipper.
One of the most overlooked summer fragrances belongs to the lime (or linden) tree – perhaps due to the blossom being mostly above nose height – but gather a handful of the delicate flowers, breathe in their aroma and you will be rewarded with a wonderful sweet perfume of ripe melon and honey. The resulting tea is particularly popular in France, where it’s known as tilleul.
Lime trees are often quite old*, so look around established parks or country estates to find them. The flowers speckle the trees in summer as the days reach their maximum length and are often covered with bees – its pollen is much appreciated by bee-keepers for the tasty honey it produces. You should be able to gather enough blossom at head height but to maximise your picking potential a chair or ladder will come in handy.
How to brew lime flower tea
The leaves and even the bark of the lime tree can be used to make a variety of potions but it’s the flowers that make the best tea – you can use them fresh but they are generally better when dried. The honey aroma remains after brewing and the flavour is clean and light, making a herbal tea that is both calming and refreshing. Steep one to two teaspoons for five to ten minutes. Sweet-toothed drinkers looking for extra comfort can stir in a teaspoon of honey.
*You can find one of the country’s oldest lime trees at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, England. Their coppiced specimen is believed to be around 2,000 years old. Whilst you are there, it’d be rude not to check out the STIHL Treetop Walkway – a 300 metre long, snaking structure that will lead you on a winding journey up through the canopy. Enjoy
What flowers or wild herbs do you enjoy in your tea? Let us know in the comments below!