Bear Grylls knows all about how to find and purify water in the world’s most hostile environments. Sometimes though, as you brave the elements you might be looking for a drink that provides a little more comfort.
“Maybe it’s just the Englishman in me, but I don’t reckon anything raises the spirits better than a cup of hot tea,” he says in his book Extreme Food. “If you’ve got a dry teabag or two in your pack, that’s great, but it would be a shame to ignore all the great ingredients nature has lined up for us to make our own hot drinks.
Bear says that he has three favorite teas that he likes to make in the wild.
A word of caution before we begin: It is important to positively identify any wild plant or tree as edible, prior to consumption. Some pines, trees, and berries are poisonous. Knowledge of edible plants and other flora in your area is crucial – if you’re not 100% sure, consult a local expert/field guide or avoid them altogether.
The birch tree is a very useful tree in a survival situation. You can use a birch-bark pot to boil water, or even use the wood for a canoe.
It also makes a nice drink. To make birch tea, first take some twigs from the end of a branch of a birch tree, or else scrape some bark away from new growth. Add this to a cup of boiling water and infuse it for 10 minutes.
Bear says that the birch tree also has a hidden secret: the sap. “You can tap this off in the early spring to harvest some delicious, safe-to-drink liquid, full of sugars, minerals, and Vitamin C,” says Bear in Extreme Food. “Think of it as nature’s energy drink.”
You can even use the sap instead of water in the tea. To access it, first make a cut in the tree – such as an upward slice into the bark. Then, put in something to act as a tap – for example, a piece of bark shaped into a gutter. Let the sap drip into a collecting vessel – this will be slow, so it’s a good idea to tie your bottle or cup to the tree.
Wild Fruit Tea
Most edible berries have leaves that can be turned into tea – for example, blackberry and wild raspberry leaves, or blueberry. (Make sure you only edible berries and not the leaves from something like rhubarb, which are poisonous)
Steep the leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes. You can also do this with herbs – for example, mint tea is one of the most refreshing teas in the world.
Pine Needle Tea
Pine trees are native to most of the northern hemisphere, and you can also find them in most temperate and subtropical regions around the world, and pine needle tea can be refreshing.
However first, an important note Extreme Food: Be warned – some pines are poisonous and you should not use these to make tea. The ponderosa pine, native to North America and the Norfolk Island pine, or Australian pine, common across the South Pacific. Yew trees are pine-like conifers and very poisonous: beware and avoid.
If you are in an area with the correct pine needles, Bear says that it is one of nature’s super-foods, containing Vitamins A and C, and Native Americans used to use it to prevent scurvy, for example after a long canoe trip.
“Also, it tastes good – mild and citrusy, “says Bear in Extreme Food. “In fact, I tend to chew on the young buds as I am hiking through pine terrain – like nature’s candy.”
To make the tea, get a handful of pine needles (see above warning) – younger ones are best.
Strip the needles from the branch, chop them up into small pieces, and add them to a cup of water that has just boiled. Bear likes to let them infuse for about ten minutes.
Note: Always positively identify any wild plant or tree, prior to consumption. Some pines, trees, and berries are poisonous.