Mugwort. Its name doesn’t sound very appetising, but we assure you that it is. Flavour-wise, it sits somewhere between rosemary and sage, with a warm bitterness that makes it a great herb for adding to a roast dinner or any dish where herbs blend into the background. On this occasion, however, we recommend trying its flowers as a tea for drinking before bed. It is high in vitamin C, it eases digestion and stomach cramps, and it is even said to encourage lucid dreams - the perfect brew to provide a good night’s sleep!
Mugwort grows all over the country and is a perennial plant that can be found along footpaths, roadsides or woodland edges. The best time to pick flowers and leaves is in the middle of summer, before the plant has gone to seed and the leaves become unpleasantly bitter. Fun fact: before the introduction of hops into brewing, mugwort was one of the most popular bittering agents to use when brewing beer!
We recommend using a teapot and allowing the tea to infuse for 4-5 minutes. Alternatively, use an infuser or a non-cotton tea bag and make directly in your favourite mug. The portion size is enough for one teapot or two cups.
Technically, the teas we send out aren’t teas at all. Due to not being the actual tea plant, they would fall under the category of infusions or the unappetising-sounding ‘tisanes’. They aren’t really anything like your standard builders brew, loved by so many for its tannins, slight bitterness and woody undertones. This Oak Leaf Tea is different though. We reckon it’s about as close as you might get to regular black tea and even prefer it with a dash of milk too. We made it by picking the freshest green growth way back in early Spring, smashing it into bits to break down the fibres and letting it oxidise before finally drying it out (this is actually how regular tea is made too). Ok, so it might not be an exact match to the hot beverages drank by monkeys and proud northern counties, but it has a pleasant, earthy warmth to it and is a pretty decent, caffeine-free, wild alternative. Plus oak leaves reportedly have all sorts of health benefits going for them, so its win-win. The bag you have in your Forage Box is enough for at least two teapots and best used in similar proportions to standard loose-leaf tea.
Oak is a common native tree found across the country and is easily identified. Please be considerate when harvesting foliage and pick sparingly.
“The British Empire was built on tea” is the sort of glib slogan you may find adorned on a mug in a staff kitchen, but there is some substance to this bold claim. We are a nation of tea drinkers and, aside from the marketing illusion that tea plants grow in Yorkshire, it is generally accepted that a good, old-fashioned builders brew is our national drink. However, this has only been the case for the last one-hundred years or so. Before then, it was actually this wonderful tea that we consumed in abundance and defined our tea-drinking reputation. A hugely popular product imported from Russia at the time, this delicious tea fell out of favour due a variety of theorised reasons and has since been confined to the enjoyment of foragers and their afternoon tea guests.
Rosebay Willowherb tea is made using the same fermentation process that oxidises regular tea from green to black, and has similar earthy flavours to match. We find the ‘freshness’ of this tea more suitable to being enjoyed without milk, although when served at the start of one of our workshops, this still goes down a treat with a dash. There should be enough for a few portions or one strong teapot.
This is wild angelica, of which there are a fair few sub-species. It grows in damper areas, particularly in the boggier bits of streams, woodland edges and canal paths. As part of the difficult umbellifer family, it is VERY important this is identified correctly, as the same family also contains deadly lookalikes. Always err on the side of caution - don’t munch on a hunch!
Although the entire plant is edible, we’ve selected the seeds where the bitter taste of angelica is intensified. You can use these much in the same way you would cloves, cardamom pods and cassia bark - you’d never eat them on their own, but incorporated into a dish where their aromatic flavours can be imbibed by the rest of the ingredients, they become something a bit special. We recommend using them in baking, where their unique flavour acts as a spice, much like cinnamon or nutmeg. Try them in a carrot cake or ginger biscuit. Alternatively, steam some white fish with some soft herbs and a small pinch of these seeds for an aromatic twist to a classic.
Like gin? After juniper and citrus peel, angelica is probably the next most used botanical in gin distillation. If you’re feeling adventurous, try making an infused gin using 200ml of gin, a generous sprinkle of seeds and a few months of patience. The result should highlight angelica’s aromatic qualities and would make a superb cocktail ingredient.