May Tea Blend - Bigleaf Maple Flowers
Within the last few weeks the Forest has truly woken up from it's long quiet Winter time.
Each year I feel astonished when this happens. Suddenly I realize that all the leaves have returned by the thousands upon thousands to give their cool dappled shade like a gift to all the Forest in the newly bright sun. Fringecups, Salmonberry, Bleeding Hearts, and Stinging Nettles flood the under-story with their blossoms and foliage drooping over the path. Huge bumble bees hum by lazily in the green tinged light and new birdsong mingles with the fragrant breeze.
Everything seems to be flowering and reveling in the warm temperatures. Our native Bigleaf Maple is the same. Acer macrophyllum, also called Oregon Maple is ubiquitous to the Pacific Northwest forest. The trees are large easily reaching over 100 feet high with leaves up to 12 inches across. Pojar says in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, "Bigleaf maple carries a greater load of mosses and other plants than any other tree species in our region. Sometimes the bark is not visible anywhere on the tree trunk or main branches..." This is often how I spot them in the forest. When I see a trunk covered in moss and small licorice ferns, I pan up to spot the huge 5 lobed leaves high above. This time of year they're also covered in pale green blossom clusters 3-4 inches long that hang like grapes from the branches.
Native peoples of the region used preparations of the leaves and bark for sore throats and the wood for making paddles and spindles. Many foragers in our region use the spring flowers in salads, pestos, cakes and bread recipes. They are a sweet green treat!
Gathering blossoms for an afternoon herbal tea felt like a fun way to ingest these special spring offerings. As always, before you gather please check out my post on Gathering 101. When gathering something to ingest, make sure you're taking from a clean area that hasn't been sprayed or suffered the effects of pollution from nearby sources.
Because the trees are usually so tall I decided to gather fallen flowers from deep within my nearby forest. After a windy day is a good time to go looking since the flowers will have been freshly knocked down. Once you begin spotting the mossy trunks you'll also notice tiny pale green blossoms scattered across the floor. These have been blown from the blossom clusters and are a good sign you'll come upon them soon.
As you look for the whole blossom clusters (and before taking them), remember to ask the tree and spirit of the forest for permission to gather and give thanks for such a beautiful bounty! Go for the freshest clusters you can find. Avoid ones that are very wilted or have begun to sprout seeds. I gathered a couple handfuls to try drying them out for later afternoon teas.
Once home, give them a good cold thorough rinse. If you're going to brew them immediately, go for it! I used 2-3 clusters and boiling hot water from my tea kettle. Let them steep for 5-10 minutes and enjoy!
If you're going to dry some for your tea collection, shake them off and spread them out on a double layered paper towel in a cool, well-ventilated area. I kept mine on the kitchen bar so I would see them every time I walked by. It reminded me to turn them over a couple times a day to make sure they were getting good air flow and drying well. After 3-4 days they were dry enough to the touch to store in a jar.
I've since discovered they are sweetest when brewed fresh, but it is nice to have a small jar of them on the shelf for special occasions.