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Making Botanical Medicine

Trees, Lichen & Fungi: Teas in February

Tea is the perfect theme for this month’s Wild Things Roundup. I truly love tea—it’s an art and, sometimes, a form of therapy.

In the depth of Winter, we confront dark, hard, uncomfortable things. I doubt I’m the only one recovering from the turmoil of 2012, ducking from the seasonal bugs whizzing through our communities, and trying to find solace & a silver lining from the horrific events we’ve witnessed in the last few months.  It’s been a rough few months, I won’t lie. But tea—well, that makes everything a bit better.  Teas (infusions & decoctions) make available some very useful compounds to rebalance our physiologies. But they’re also satisfying, comforting & soulful.

During Winter, I embrace the medicine of the trees, lichen, and fungi. I suppose part of it is out of necessity; there just isn’t much else in the way of aerial plant parts. But it’s the upward movement & verticality of tree medicine—the promise of new growth in a season of fog, mist, and pooling water—that lifts my spirits. For that reason, tree tips, branches & leaves find their way into many of this season’s botanical preparations. I use them in teas, baths, foot baths, infused oils & vinegars, and honeys.

Some of my favorite tea blends include:

  • Usnea/Chaga/Ashwaganda root/Reishi fruitbody/Devil’s club stem bark/Spruce tips/Osha root (pictured above)
  • Hawthorn berry/Devil’s club/Rose petals
  • Usnea/Douglas fir tips/Hawthorn berry/Reishi fruitbody/Astragalus root/Laborador tea leaves
  • Chaga/Osha root chai
  • Hawthorn berry/Rosehip chai
  • Usnea/Balsamroot chai (can you tell I enjoy chai teas?)

All of these are prepared as a decoction. (See previous post in tea making.) Regarding amounts: I never measure. A pinch of this & that, eyeball the amount of water. I really only use measurements when I’m making lotions & creams, tinctures, and solid extracts. For infused oils, water infusions, decoctions, vinegars, honeys & salves, I don’t bother. I think those products fare better when you rely on your senses. For a little brush up, here’s a very speedy summary of some of the herbs named above:

  • Usnea (Usnea spp): A lichen known for its antimicrobial constituents. Becoming increasingly rare in the Pacific Northwest; only gather that which has been blown down from a storm.
  • Aswaganda (Withania somnifera): Grounding, calming adaptogen. Helps restore thyroid & adrenal function.
  • Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum): Expectorant, adaptogen, blood sugar modifier. Known by many as a warrior plant & heart protector.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): Warming immune tonic, wei qi restorative, liver & cardiovascular tonic.
  • Labrador tea (Ledum groelandicum): Also known as Swamp Tea, Indian Tea, Marsh Tea. Traditionally enjoyed by Salish peoples for a variety of purposes. Aromatic, slightly spicy, excellent in decoctions with hawthorn berry, Devil’s club, and Reishi.
  • Hawthorn berry (Crataegus spp.): Cardiovascular tonic, nervine (thanks 7Song!), adds a very pleasant semi-tart taste to teas.
  • Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Immune support, anti-oxidant. Currently being studyes for anti-mutagenic & chemopreventive properties. Bitter & dark, used in Russia as a coffee substitute.
  • Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Immune support, liver & cardiovascular tonic. Long history of use in TCM for lungs/heart. A true adaptogen & effective anti-inflammatory. See previous post. 
  • Osha root (Lingusticum porteri): Upper respiratory expectorant, aromatic bitter, Bear medicine.
  • Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): Helpful as a respiratory tonic, low-grade chronic/dry cough. Good on its own as a tea, but plays well with others. Has a tart, lemony flavor. High volatile oil content, many of which are antimicrobial & anti-inflammatory.

So as I recover from one of Winter’s many middle fingers—the stomach flu—with a hot cup of ginger/lemon/honey tea at my side, I invite you to deepen & beautify your tea making practice. It’s good, sacred & brings you home to yourself.

About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.

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