Monday, May 21, 2012

Vanilla Leaf Tea

If you have spent even a little time wandering lower and mid-elevation trails in the Pacific Northwest, you've seen vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), a common native plant that can grow in lush, luxuriant carpets of jaunty green on the forest floor.

Now is the time to collect some. As snow melts in the mountains, the woods awaken from their winter slumbers and begin to stir with energized green shoots of all kinds. Sometimes the forest floor looks like it has a bad case of bed-head after the snowmelt, all matted and olive drab. But fast-growing greenery like vanilla leaf brings a sense of alert vitality back to the woods, a vitality that I try to incorporate myself this time of year.

When you find a good dense patch, it doesn't take long to collect enough for a year's supply of tea. Just grab the young leaves in bunches and snip the stalks with kitchen shears. When you get home, you can trim the rest of the stem if you prefer. The other day I filled a couple garbage bags, most of it for Jeremy Faber over at Foraged and Found Edibles. He uses the vanilla leaf in several wild tea mixes that he sells at Seattle farmers markets. Jeremy had a good laugh when I told him I averaged about 45 minutes to an hour per bag; he picks the stuff about three times as fast. And I must have cut myself in at least three places with the scissors. Good thing I don't usually forage for pay!

Native Americans used vanilla leaf as an insect repellent and to perfume their homes. Once in the dehydrator, the plant's common name rings true: the room fills with the slightly sweet and calming aroma of vanilla. As a tea, it has the same affect. Vanilla leaf tea is not like stinging nettle tea—it doesn't announce itself loudly at the door as a nutrient-laden heal-all with punch. It's more laid back, with a reserved herbally essence that's mellowed by the hint of vanilla. Really, it's a wonderfully soothing tea, like a chamomile. You can adjust the flavor to suit your own taste by mixing in other wild ingredients such as rose hips.


9 comments:

k said...

Thanks for the idea - I have know of using it to keep the insects at bay, but never thought of it as a tea. With all the vanilla leaf around here these days, I will definitely have to try it!

Katherine Kurtz said...

Wow, cool! I never knew the name of that pretty plant, nor did I know that we could use it as a tea. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Do you have to dehydrate it first? Or if you get fresh leaves, can you make a tea from them?

Jeff said...

What timing! I just learned this plant and this use (vanilla tea) from Brian Luther during the Cispus Foray yesterday. He mentioned harvesting once the flowers have started wilting. Have you tried harvesting at different times or noticed any difference?

Langdon Cook said...

Anonymous - I imagine you can use it fresh for tea like stinging nettles, but dehydrating first really brings out the vanilla.

Jeff - I've only harvested young plants when the flowers are either just appearing or absent. Report back here on your experiments.

Bonnie Story said...

I have a patch of this and had not thought about making tea with it! Glad I saw your post. My goosefoot patch is here:
http://back2theland.blogspot.com/2012/05/goosefoot-aka-vanilla-leaf-aka-achlys.html
I hope to attend your Roundtable on Bainbridge Island next month. Thanks for the great blogging!

sethh said...

Where have you seen vanilla leaf referenced anywhere else as a tea? I couldnt find anything in the old books or online. Was this a recent discovery or some old folk method that never made the press?

Langdon Cook said...

Bonnie - See you next week!

Seth - Jeremy Faber at Foragef and Found Edibles turned me on to vanilla leaf tea. Try it, it's good.

Anonymous said...

I'd be careful with this one. According to HerbVideos.com, "[Vanilla Leaf] contains coumarins which thin blood (anticoagulant) and may make the use of Achlys risky." Could be a good tea for menstruation then? But bad if you have thin blood or are on any medications that already thin your blood.