Did you know that many bushfood plants can be used to make tea?
Well, we’re not really supposed to call it “tea”, as this term is officially reserved for tea made from the leaves of a specific plant. Unofficially, however, tea can be made from many parts of many different plants.
What’s so special about tea?
Tea is renowned for (among other things) being one of the most popular drinks in the world. Not hard to believe considering it’s said to be thousands of years old. Legends, stories and historical findings aside, it’s hard to argue with tea-drinking habits of today. According to the UK Tea & Infusions Association, 36 billion cups of tea are consumed each year in Britain alone.
What we officially know to be “tea” — whether it’s black tea, green tea, or white tea — comes from the leaves of a single plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference is in how the leaves are grown and prepared. Camellia sinensis leaves are very sensitive to their environment, to the point where how much sunlight the plant gets can have a significant influence on tea flavour.
Strictly speaking, bushfood tea isn’t a tea but a tisane, also known as herbal tea. This is a general, catch-all term for drinks made by infusing plant material in hot water. This plant material can include the leaves, flower, fruit, and even the roots of native plants. And there are oh so many you can use.
Bushfood tea in a native micro-food forest
Leaves for tea
Roots for tea
Roots for tea
Fruit for tea
A large micro-forest could accommodate one or two bushfood trees at full size, with additional trees species grown at shrub size, plus herbs as part of the understory. Note that all the plants listed as “suitable for shrub layer” may also be grown as full size trees.
Smaller micro-forest plantings may see you keeping all your bushfood trees at shrub size, so as not to crowd out other species. This is also what we’d recommend for growing native tea in a suburban or urban rental home, or in a verge garden or balcony bushfood garden with strict space constraints.
Tips for growing bushfood teas in your garden
Research the conditions in your chosen spot.
Edible plants are best kept away from sources of pollution, such as busy highways and industrial pollution. This is especially important when it comes to plants grown for tea, as pollutants on the surface of the leaves may leech into your water.
If you live on a quiet road with negligible pollution, it may suffice to position your edible plants slightly back from the street and behind a barrier. In a micro-forest setup, consider that other species may serve as a suitable shelter for your edibles.
Condition the soil before you plant.
Use an organic compost to ensure a nutrient-rich soil. This ensures your plants have the best start to life as they transition from growing in potting mix and settle into their new home. Water your garden bed or micro-forest well for the first few weeks so the roots can get established.
Mind your mulch.
Choose a good mulch with large, coarse uneven particles about 5–7cm thick. We don’t usually recommend straw mulch for a micro-forest as this can slow the development of your herb layer and forest floor through a process known as nitrogen drawdown, however the addition of an organic fertiliser (eg. Dynamic Lifter) can help prevent this. Potager gardens and trees planted in large containers will benefit from straw mulch — especially in summer.
Choose organic and non-toxic.
As you’re growing an edible garden, you want to minimise harmful and unwanted chemicals introduced into your ecosystem. Use organic composts and fertilisers, as well as non-toxic methods of controlling pests and plant diseases. Diversity in planting helps with attracting beneficial insects and predators.
Learn to love weeds
Don’t stress too much about weeds, especially in the early stages of growing a micro-food forest, as they can help boost your herb layer as well as your forest floor.
If you’re worried about invasive species crowding out your natives, consider planting edible “weeds” like Sea Parsley, Warrigal and Native Wintercress, or adding attractive native ground covers like Sea Purslane, Native Violet and Karkalla.
Drying and preserving your harvest
Most bushfoods are best enjoyed fresh, when the flavours are at their strongest.
Drying and preserving some plants can change the appearance, texture and flavour quite drastically. Some plants, such as Native River Mint, may only keep for a few weeks before becoming bland. However, other plants like Lemon Myrtle and Mountain Pepper can intensify in flavour, especially in the first few weeks after processing.
For leaf and fruit parts:
Use sun-drying, air-drying or oven-drying techniques, as this removes moisture before mould has a chance to grow.
For root/rhizome parts:
Air-dried for a few days before wrapping the root/rhizome in a damp paper towel, sealed in a plastic bag, then frozen to preserve the flavour and freshness.