Spring is springing and new leaves are starting to grow on shrubs and trees. Some of them make tasty herbal tea, so I went out foraging with my 4-year-old niece Rebecca for wild blackberry leaves.
You don't want to accidentally pick the wrong thing, and leaves are a bit trickier to identify than berries, especially when they're young. So this is perhaps a project for experienced foragers. If you already have your favourite blackberrying spots and you are confident you can identify the correct plants then you'll be fine. But if you haven't foraged before, wait until the late summer or autumn and then go looking for blackberries. There's nothing in the UK that looks anything like a blackberry that might do you any harm, so it's a great first foraging project. Remember the locations of the plants. Have a good look at the leaves and the stems and become familiar with them. Then pick wild blackberry leaf tea next spring.
You want to pick the bunches of young leaves as they emerge. You don't need gloves - you're not going to mess around with the thorny stems. Just grasp the leaves and tug them off. Don't strip all the young leaves off a single stem. You don't want to kill the plant, although brambles (wild blackberry plants) are devilishly tough and could probably survive. But it's good foraging etiquette to just take a couple of bunches of leaves from each stem and then move along.
Rebecca and I picked maybe half-a-pint to a pint of bramble leaves before going home. Actually Rebecca only picked one leaf, then ran off and picked some daisies and dandelions for her mum, leaving me to do all the work. I didn't mind, really.
You make wild blackberry leaf tea almost the same way you make ordinary tea - pour boiling water over and steep. There are only two differences. The first difference is that you use more fresh leaves than you could fit in a tea bag. How much leaves for a cup? I'm afraid that's the same sort of question as how long is a piece of string? About yay much. If you use more it will be stronger. Less and it will be weaker. But at any rate, use a lot more than the teaspoon or so you would use of dried leaves. I usually about half fill my tea pot with leaves (not packed, just loosely dropped in) then top it up with boiling water. If you only want to make a single cup, half fill your tea cup with leaves and fill with water.
The second difference is that you steep for longer than you would steep normal tea. I'd steep blackberry leaf tea at least half an hour. I've also steeped it a lot longer than that - even a few hours. This time I steeped a jug full for about an hour or so, drank a cup, left the rest steeping overnight, then strained the cold tea into a smaller jug and put it in my fridge.
It's nice hot or cold. I like it better with honey than without. You wouldn't usually add milk, but hey, if you like it that way it's your cup of tea. If you can collect loads of leaves you can dry them and drink wild blackberry leaf tea all year long. After spring the leaves become darker and tougher and don't make such nice tea. But I enjoy it as a spring treat, a fresh taste of the first new greenness of the year.
Update: A reader has reported developing a rash after using this tea. I know that many commercially available herb teas contain blackberry leaves without bearing any warnings, and I can't find any warnings about allergic reactions to blackberry leaves on the internet or in the foraging books I have. I suppose it's possible to have a reaction to anything - I know someone who is allergic to apples but I don't post allergy warnings with apple recipes. If you've never tried blackberry tea before, don't overdo it the first time, and be on the lookout for allergic reactions. I should reemphasise that you must never eat anything you've foraged unless you are totally 100% positive you have identified it correctly.