As a change from philosophical musings, I would like to share a simple practice of mine that helps me connect with the land, plant medicine and the seasons. Now is an ideal time to discuss this, as spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere and the greensward is alive with herbs and flowers once more.
I make hedgerow tea at least once a week during the spring to autumn months. In winter I substitute this practice with herbs I have dried myself. The brew is ever changing and reflects the ephemeral nature and life cycles of most medicinal plants that grow here. It is always made fresh, within an hour of picking the herbs, when they are still very much alive. Because I only make enough for one or two cups, very little plant material is needed and over harvesting of rarer species is avoided. The tea is as much an energetic as a physical medicine, its drinking is an act of gratitude and communion, and its effects are subtle.
Most of the herbs we buy are grown overseas, as is our tea and coffee and a good deal of our food. We no longer consume the products of the earth beneath our feet and are disconnected from the seasons and local biosphere. Making hedgerow tea is a small, simple way of getting back in touch with your locality. The aphorism ‘you are what you eat’ may be over used, but it is no less true. By eating and drinking the land, you become a more integral part of it.
I call this ‘hedgerow tea’ because most of the plants I work with grow in the woods and hedgerows, but you could also make it from garden herbs, or those taken from any land you have access to. Obviously, careful identification is essential, which is why I recommend this practice only once you have a decent familiarity with your local plants and have tried them as simples first. If you are new to an area, or to wild crafting herbs, pick up a good local field guide. Roger Phillips’ (shown in the photo) is my favourite for the UK. All you really need to know to begin is which plants are toxic and which are consumable.
How to brew Hedgerow tea:
- Go for a walk. This is an integral part of the practice. The walk itself is pilgrimage and offering. It is meditation and communication. Listen and observe and be present.
- Gather your plants. This is an intuitive process and the greater familiarity you have with the local plant life, the easier it becomes. I like to take a flower, berry or a few leaves from any plant newly in season, any plant that calls to me or grabs my attention. Sometimes, if I am suffering some disease or symptoms, I keep this in mind and ask the land guardians to guide me to the medicine I need. My hedgerow teas vary in number of plants, from three to twelve different types. The more variety, the smaller amount you need of each. Magical numbers like seven and nine are always suitable.
- Give thanks. Whether this is in a physical form, with an offering or libation, or simply with words, music and heartfelt expression.
- Check your herbs for insects, carefully remove these, then give them a quick wash to remove any dirt and dust.
- Brew your tea. Use fresh water, or spring water if you can and always use a tea pot, as the volatile oils in the fresh herbs will be lost unless there is a lid to condense them.
- Take the time to sit and drink. Notice the tastes and scent, the colour of the water (violets will turn it a vibrant blue!) and any sensations or messages you receive as you drink it.
- Return the used herbs to the earth (not the bin!) with gratitude.
You do not need to be a herbalist to try this, but please do make sure to identify your plants accurately and don’t consume any you are unsure of. I hope you will enjoy your own hedgerow tea and would love to hear about your experiences with this practice.