As we get further into summer, we can start to think about our harvest and preparation for the colder months, fall and winter. We can plan ahead to gather and dry the plants that will help support our bodies as the seasons progress. This process helps to develop more of an awareness of our bodies in relation to the seasons and the natural world around us. 

Looking around our POP orchards, we can find many herbs, brambles, trees, and roots that offer us benefits during the winter months. Depending on the plant, we might use the bark, seed, flower, fruit, or leaves in our teas. Here are a few that we love and hope you will enjoy, but there are many more to explore!

Growing and Harvesting

If you are new to making your own tea blends, that’s okay! There is an abundance of plants around us and you can see which ones work best for you. For now, let’s focus on plants that we see in our POP orchards that offer warming and healing qualities specific to the colder months. 

Peach Leaf & Wild Ginger

Many parts of the peach tree (Prunus persica) can be used medicinally including the leaves, bark, kernels, and flowers. The leaves in particular can be beneficial for the treatment of a cough, bronchitis, and abdominal disorders. They possess detoxifying, laxative, and diuretic properties to help settle the stomach. Harvest the flowers in the spring and the leaves in the summer and early fall. When infused 1 TB of dried leaf/flower per 8 oz boiling water, the tea possesses a floral and almond-like flavor.

Sunny and Jonathan at Sayre High School tended to the peach tree – thinning early set fruit & plucking away peach leaf curl! When doing routine care, feel free to snag some leaves or other parts of the peach tree to dry.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has been employed by various Native American tribes for a variety of conditions, including for respiratory and digestive support, and to treat fevers, colds and coughs. This native plant grows well in the shady understory of plants like the paw paw where they both have deep burgundy bell-shaped flowers and are pollinated by flies. While we wouldn’t encourage over-harvesting of this plant in the wild, large cultivated stands of the plant could be dug in early spring or fall for their aromatic, ginger flavor as an local analogue for more tropically or greenhouse grown ginger root. It can be used to treat intestinal ailments, relieve stomach aches and cramps, as well as indigestion.

Wild Ginger is a good orchard groundcover for shade with high medicinal value.

If you enjoy Chamomile for its calming and friendly apple-scented blossoms, you can try adding that in to this combination of herbs as well.  We grow Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) in many of our orchards, and it can be harvested between April and September. This herb acts as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antispasmodic, and can soothe a stomachache or active cough.

Red Raspberry Leaf & Elderflower

Many POP orchards include red and yellow raspberries (Rubus idaeus and Rubus strigosu) and the leaves can be harvested June-September. The leaves offer a variety of nutrients including magnesium, potassium, iron and vitamins B, C, and E, which are helpful for their immune-boosting properties and for energy. Raspberry leaves can be helpful for nausea and leg cramps and have astringent properties, acting as a tonic for those who menstruate.

Harvest the cream-colored flowers of the elder shrub for a gentle, soothing tea!

The flowers from the elderberry plant, often the American or Eastern Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, Sambucus nigra) in our POP orchards, are packed with bio-flavonoids that help to boost the immune system for those winter months. They can be harvested in the spring.

While these plants are best harvested at different times of the year depending upon the part of the plant used, the best time of the day to harvest is in the mid-morning when the sun hasn’t bleached out the essential oils from the plants yet. You may want to include branches when harvesting for drying later on and you should rinse the herbs in clean water to remove unwanted particles.

Drying

We dry our plants to preserve them and sometimes even to enhance their flavor. You may dry the leaves and roots using several methods. One method involves hanging up the plants from the stem or branches with a string. You can also use brown paper bags that are untreated by chemicals to store and dry your harvested plants. Some people will use dehydrators or ovens to dry plants as well.

https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-dry-herbs/; http://katiethecreativelady.com/blog/2016/10/21/enjoying-and-drying-herbs

Enjoying and Blending Herbal Teas

Before consuming any of the plant parts described above , please read POP’s edible plant disclaimer at the end of the article.

Imagine a warm cup of tea in the fall and the winter months. What do you feel from the moment you take that first sip all the way until after your last sip? What do you know about your favorite teas and how they affect your body? 

The plants we use in our teas have different properties, actions, and benefits for the body. These medicinal compounds exist in a complex web of secondary plant metabolites that form the basis of the plants’ defense or immune system, protecting against pests or from other plants infringing on their growing space, for example.

Secondary plant metabolites include the organic compounds plants create that are not directly involved in the normal growth, development, or reproduction of the organisms. These metabolites are divided into three major observable classes: flavonoids and allied phenolic and polyphenolic compounds (ex.  free-radical fighting anthocyanins, the coloring pigment found in richly colored red, purple, blue, black flowers and fruit), terpenoids (ex. the pest-deterring menthol or camphor of aromatic mint family plants like bee balm, peppermint, mountain mint) and nitrogen-containing alkaloids and sulphur-containing compounds (ex.. as in the anti-viral, bacterial, fungal-compounds found in pungent onion and mustard family plants).

In essence, when we make use of plants for their medicinal actions, we are benefiting from these secondary metabolite compounds, which impart biological changes in our bodies’ organ systems, viruses, bacteria, and pathogens! For more information on plant phytoconstituents and their extraction methods, visit this guide here.

The process of drawing out the medicinal compounds from the plant can occur by steeping or heating the plant parts in hot water and making use of the plant’s aromatics, flavoring, or medicinal constituents. In order to separate the plant parts from the liquid in your cup, you may want to use a metal tea infuser, reusable tea bags, or a cloth strainer. 

We’ve enjoyed working on these drying and blending methods with students at our school orchard sites. Sayre High School students have even been able to incorporate their teas into a Community Supported Agriculture program offered to the school and surrounding community.

Sayre High School students Najeer and Danny blend dry herbs including mountain mint, lemon balm, peppermint, and fennel into soothing herbal tea bags!

Check out this lesson here if you want to think about ways to engage younger people with drying and blending teas: https://www.phillyorchards.org/2018/02/05/2017-school-orchard-update-linked-pdf-lesson-tea-time/

Remember, we blend different plants together in order to establish a good flavor combination and to partner plants with different medicinal benefits. You may have to try many different blends to find ones that work for you. Wishing you many cups of warm, soothing tea in the coming months!

Disclaimer

The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

To the best of our knowledge,​ the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed​ material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness,​ or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned ​herein.

SAFETY PRECAUTION: While there are many plants which are helpful and beneficial for us to partner with, there are plants that are dangerous for us to consume or even to touch. It’s important that we take the necessary precautions – in a city space: avoid harvesting from places with pollution or runoff; avoid harvesting endangered plants; understand there are some plants used medicinally only in small doses vs some that can be eaten with relatively little concern. The most important thing is that you trust your body, go slow with incorporating any new plants into your diet! 

Sources:

https://www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/natural-health-guide/benefits/elderberry

https://delishably.com/beverages/Drying-Herbs-for-Herbal-Tea

http://katiethecreativelady.com/blog/2016/10/21/enjoying-and-drying-herbs

This POP Blog Post was written by 2017-2019 Repair the World Fellow Megan Brookens with support from Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.  

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.