January Tea Blend - Russian Black & Thuja
As a child I always struggled with the fact that my birthday was in the depths of Winter. It seemed incredibly cruel to me that I could never have a swimming party, with a slip'n'slide in the heat of summer. However, as an adult I coordinate an annual bathhouse spa day, so I get my swimming party after all!
I’ve truly come to cherish the winter months and their quiet contemplative beauty. It’s a lovely time of year to walk in the forest completely alone with a chill breeze rustling the tree branches. I felt inspired this month by the forest’s beauty to harvest a few sprigs of Cedar tips for a simple tea blend.
Western Red Cedar, or Thuja plicata, is numerous in the Pacific Northwest. It was held in high regard by the Native peoples of this region and used ceremonially as well as for utilitarian purposes. It has long sweeping fan-like branches and cinnamon red colored bark.
According to Michael Moore, “Red cedar is strongly antifungal, antibacterial, and is an immunostimulant…The tincture or tea acts as a stimulus to many smooth muscles and this can be used to advantage in respiratory, urinary tract, and reproductive problems. (IT IS NOT appropriate for those with kidney weakness or for women trying to concieve or during pregnancy).” Personally, I just adore its unique incense like flavor. It has at once the flavor of cedar essential oil, along with citrus notes, but is also quite sweet!
I wanted to pair this with a new herbal discovery I made this month at Miro Tea, a wonderful Seattle tea house I’ve frequented over the years.
I stumbled upon Russian Fireweed herbal tea there on a lunch break recently and was blown away by its rich earthy black tea-like flavor. I thought it would be perfect in the evenings because of its caffeine free nature. Fireweed, or Epilobium angustifolium, is also a Pacific Northwest local plant. It can grow 6 feet tall and bares large pink flowers conically on its crown. Fireweed is referred to as a first colonizer plant that restores the soil and prepares the forest for regeneration after fires. It can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
According to Joybilee Farm, it’s also been used as a tonic tea for hundreds of years in Siberia, Russia, and throughout Europe, both as a dried green leaf and as a fermented black tea beverage. The Russians claim to have invented the process of tea fermentation, and for centuries in Europe, Russian Tea (fermented fireweed leaves), or Ivan Chai, was THE tea of commerce. For a DIY tutorial on fermenting fireweed, see Joybilee Farm’s post here
So, with a fair amount of fermented Fireweed from Miro stashed away in my cabinet, I decided that fresh Red Cedar tips would be a great pairing for this tea. I then ventured out to the forest to gather them. Please refer to the Gathering 101 blog post for the process I like to follow when collecting plants.
Once I was in a clean area deep within the forest, I approached a Thuja and asked permission to gather just a few sprigs. With permission granted, I happily made just two little snips of some fresh-looking tips to bring home with me.
These can easily be hung upside down to dry and then broken apart for storage to be used with any tea blend. I immediately cut up a few of the fresh tips into my tea pot for brewing, however. (I’ll dry the rest for later use).
I used about 3 tablespoons of the fermented fireweed to about 1 tablespoon of fresh cedar tips and steeped in boiling water for 5 minutes for a strong rich flavor.
This can also be steeped again for another rich second brew.
Delicious on these long cold January nights!