When I first started foraging, I was on the look out for all sorts of things I could do with the goodies I picked. I was staying with my grandparents in Tasmania, and was tending Pop’s berry patch. He had strawberries and raspberries. Having heard about raspberry leaf tea, it got me wondering about blackberry leaf tea. I did some googling and found people who made fresh blackberry leaf tea, but it didn’t sound too exciting to me. It was only when I discovered you could ferment the leaves, in the same process used for black tea, that I thought we’d be talking about some flavours that were worth delving into. I had, in fact, heard it was the herbal tea which most tasted like black tea.
Last year, I fermented my blackberry leaves for two weeks and found the resulting tea tasted much like Oolong. It is very pleasant indeed. This year, I’ve fermented the leaves for much longer, wondering if the tea will have a deeper flavour. It does indeed. After up to six weeks fermenting, it has more developed tannins and is much more like black tea. Making the blackberry leaf tea is a very simple process. I like to pick and prepare enough to last me the year. The best time to go foraging for blackberry shoots is in spring, before the berries have started to form. There will be many young shoots on the plants at this time of year, and they will be tender enough, that you may not even need gloves to break them off. You can however, find young shoots on the plants year ’round.
There are records of blackberry leaf being used medicinally in ancient Greece. Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Pliny recommended them as herbal medicine. Two thousand years ago, the roman army doctor Galenos had his soldiers chew blackberry leaves to strengthen gums and build up physical resistance; today, we know it was the vitamin C and tannins in the leaves that he was counting on to boost immunity and heal wounds. The young shoots are incredibly high in antioxidants. Indeed, the USDA has shown blackberry shoots have more antioxidants than the berries.
Blackberry leaf tea is most commonly used as a herbal medicine to treat diarrhea, sore throats, and wounds. It is used to treat inflammation of the mouth and throat, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation and sore throat. Traditional uses also include the treatment of illnesses and ailments such as bleeding, slow healing wounds, fever, inflammation, cystitis, gout, infertility, vaginal discharge, flu, colds and cough. Because blackberry leaf tea is so high in tannins, it should not be consumed in large volumes because it can then lead to gastrointestinal upset, affect liver functioning and some nutrient absorption.
- Pick the blackberry shoots. You want young, tender leaves that will be bright green. You can take the stalks too, if they are bright and tender enough.
- Gently wash them under the tap.
- Bruise all the leaves. Last year I used a rolling pin; it was great fun. You may want to use a meat mallet, or whatever you have lying around. This year, I passed the shoots through my pasta machine, which did a superb job.
- Tightly pack the bruised shoots into a sterilised glass jar. Close the lid
- Leave the leaves to ferment for at least two weeks. You can just forget about them. I’m told the best place to leave them is on the dash board of the car. Being that I don’t drive, I don’t leave them in a car. I just leave them in the kitchen. The leaves will turn black and the fragrance will change from the smell of cut grass, to something more fruity and floral.
- When you think they’ve fermented long enough, take them out of the jar, pull the leaves apart and dry them out. I do mine in the dehydrator, but you could lay them on a wire rack or put them in a paper or calico bag in a closet to dry.
- Chop or crush up the larger pieces and transfer to a tea caddy for storage.
I use about the same volume of blackberry leaf tea as I would black tea, to make a cup. I do not add milk or sugar.
I hope you like this trick as much as I do!