In each season of the year, there are different species available for harvest. Most of them can be dried and stored for future use, and in fact, drying often improves the flavor and concentrates medicinal content. (See How to Dry Plants for Tea.)
In early spring and fall, the emphasis is usually on harvesting roots, since the energy of perennials is stored in the roots during the cold seasons. In fall, Vitamin-C-rich berries are also available. Late spring and summer bring green leaves and flowers. In winter, there are inner barks and evergreen needles.
Accurate identification, of course, is key to finding the appropriate plants and avoiding toxic species. (See Plant Identification.) Avoid harvesting plants on roadsides, under power lines, or in other places where environmental toxins might concentrate, and never take more than a quarter of the plants in a given patch of that species.
Here are just a few of the common wild plants you might want to harvest for tea.
Dig first-year burdock roots in the fall and second-year plants in the spring. (See Wild Edibles and Life Cycle). Burdock tea is earthy and slightly sweet, ideal for helping the body adjust to the change of seasons in spring and fall. Also good for skin problems.
This invasive perennial’s roots have anti-microbial, antioxidant, and laxative properties. The flavor is much like black tea. The roots are tough and difficult to dig; stick to smallish plants with manageable roots.
Mildly astringent and helpful for digestion, strawberry leaves make a nourishing, mild-tasting tea for children. Also good for diarrhea.
More astringent and stronger-tasting than strawberry, raspberry leaves are full of vitamins and minerals. The tea is an excellent uterine tonic for pregnancy, lactation, and balancing the menstrual cycle. Blackberry leaves are similar.
Cooling in summer, helpful for colds and fevers when drunk hot, peppermint leaves make the tastiest of teas. The plant tends to grow abundantly in damp areas and tastes best before flowering.
Also known as wild oregano, wild marjoram makes a relaxing tea and can also be used in cooking, like many of the mint family plants. Use both leaves and flowers.
Yet another mint, wild thyme tea is a cold and flu remedy, and the tiny leaves and flowers can be used like domestic thyme in cooking.
The blossoms make a mild-tasting tea that is full of nutrients.
Yarrow flowers are somewhat bitter in taste and not for everyone. The tea is digestive, helps resolve fevers, and balances the menstrual cycle. The long basal leaves (as opposed to stem leaves) can also be used.
Leaves, stems, and flowers make a pleasantly astringent tea that is relaxing, with benefits for nerves and muscles.
The spires of fruits on staghorn and other red-berry sumacs are full of Vitamin C when harvested in late summer. Just drop a cluster in cold water for a few hours to make a sour-tasting sumac lemonade.
The little red hips, or berries, of wild roses are easy to spot once the leaves fall off, and easy to identify because of the thorns on the stems. Crush the hips and steep them in hot water but don’t boil, in order to preserve the Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Evergreen needles make a lovely, fragrant tea with tonic and antiseptic properties. (See White Pine.)
The inner bark of sweet birch smells and tastes of wintergreen. Rip the twigs into a pot and simmer for fifteen minutes for a tasty tea that is relaxing and remedial for arthritis.
Green year-round, velvety mullein leaves make a tea that treats dry coughs and asthma.