As winter dredges on, those of us that haven’t yet been affected by the flu virus may soon find it their turn to be laid up and ill. If you have the chance however, the ill effect a virus has can be shortened and soothed by a few home remedies, namely tea-drinking.
While drinking hot liquids when sick can only do one good, not all teas are equally potent in medicinal value. If you are only looking to relax, most teas including fennel, chamomile and mint will provide a comforting dose of warmth and help induce a nap.
When gardens are silenced and put to sleep by snow, it is easy to forget that there are still many ways to heal one’s self with home plant remedies. Do not forget that even in winter, there are still many wild remedies available, particularly in evergreen trees.
For a winter cold or flu, there are four trees in specific that can not only provide much needed relief for any cold or flu but a whopping dose of wild, fresh and potent vitamin C.These trees are Pine, Fir, Spruce and Cedar. All can be found growing throughout Berlin.
You do not need to trudge to the outskirts of town and into the forest to find the trees mentioned above. They are relatively prolific throughout Berlin and to find them means simply take a walk through Tiergarten, Treptow Park, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Hasenheide, any cemetery near you or even a neighboring hof. The best places to harvest any wild food is in areas with less exposure to pollution and away from roadways.
Pine, Fir and Spruce, we know these are needle- and cone-bearing, evergreen trees.
Their main differences are:
Needles that are: Short and square shaped.
Spruce needles always grow: individually from the branch.
Needles that are: Long, glossy and thread-like.
Pine needles always grow: in clusters of at least 2 up to 8.
Needles that are: Short, flat, with a stipe on the bottom.
Fir needles always grow: individually from the branch, in a spiral from the tip.
Cedar (Thuja Plicata) is easy to tell apart from the above trees because its leaves resemble scales rather than needles. Its branches have a very distinct smell and bark should be papery, easy to peel off in long strips and reddish in color. The top of a cedar tree often nods. It’s branches grow slightly upward and may droop at the tips. Usually the branches are quite spread out.
The only tree to avoid is Yew (Taxus). It is poisonous but easy to identify through observing its bark, berries and needles. Yew bark is red to purple, flaking and thin. They also have bright red, cup shaped berries that persist through winter.
Needles that are: Short, flat, and a deep, dark green with a white, ridged underside.
Yew needles always grow: In two rows, parallel to each other and flat.
If you are worried that you will not able to positively distinguish a yew from other needle bearing trees, stick to looking only for cedar and pine trees as they are the two most distinct evergreen trees and are impossible to confuse with yew.
If you find one evergreen or the other, you could stop your quest, satisfied, and return home for tea. You could also take a moment to see which is which and even compare tastes as each has a slightly different flavor from the other.
Once you have positively identified your evergreen, you can either pick off clusters of needles or find a relatively small branch, trace it back to its main branch and remove it with clippers. If you decide to prune a branch off, cut it all the way back to the main branch, leaving no stump, so that the main branch can effectively heal.
When you have your small branch or cluster of needles back at home, separate the needles from the branch and each other. Make sure to remove any bark that is attached.
Rinse the needles under cold water and remove the papery sheath that binds them together, if present.
For pine needle tea
Bring a quart of water to a boil. Once the water has been brought to a boil, shut off the burner and place pine needles in the pot to steep for 10 minutes.
For spruce, fir and cedar tea
Let the needles boil in a quart of water for 10 minutes.
Stain all of the above teas when ready to drink to avoid getting poked in the face.
For those with stuffed noses or bronchial issues when sick, the steam from boiled pine, fir, spruce or cedar can have great effects. Coarsely chop the softer baby branches with needles and toss into a pot. Bring to a rolling boil. After shutting off the heat, cover your head with a towel and place over the cooling water. Inhale the steam vapors.
The above teas are extremely potent medicines. You probably want to limit yourself to 2 large mugfuls per day, not drinking needle tea for longer than one week straight (you will not die, you just may have a very upset stomach). You will be better by then at any rate!
Sweeten the teas with natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or stevia.
Extra special pine needle tea
For a special treat, you can also make the following pine needle tea:
Two handfuls pine needles
Two pieces cinnamon bark
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp orange peel
Bring to a boil in 2 liters of water and let boil for 10 minutes. Sweeten with desired sweetener.