Foraging For Wild Tea

Love a cup of tea? You’re not alone. Tea is the most popular drink in the world after water. But did you know you can make it from plants in your backyard?

As the era of social distancing encourages outdoor recreation, this summer is a great time to take up a bit of foraging. Foraging for tea is a great way to get familiar with the many edible plants around you and their specific properties and flavors. Making your own herbal teas or tisanes is also one of the simplest ways to get the health benefits of wild plants.

Just a short walk outside likely passes many common plants which can be used to brew tea at home. You may be surprised by the number of plants you see that can be used to make tea, including some that are sold at high prices in health food stores.

This article will give a quick overview of wild tea, including some common plants to forage at this time of year. All of these recipes are naturally decaffeinated, full of beneficial nutrients, sustainable, and totally free to enjoy.  

Foraging for wildflowers to use in tea. Photo by Kaia Waxenberg

Foraging for wildflowers to use in tea. Photo by Kaia Waxenberg


The commercial tea industry faces many challenges in sustainability. Much of the tea we consume in the USA is grown in warm countries without minimum wage laws, where workers are very poorly compensated for highly strenuous work.  Buying fairtrade tea and growing or foraging your own can help combat these social issues. 

Tea cultivation also requires lots of fresh water, fertilizer, and land, which places strain on natural resources. Commercial tea bags often contain plastic and synthetic chemicals, which may harm natural ecosystems after their disposal.

Rainforest Alliance certified tea companies are working towards social and environmental responsibility in the sector by supporting local tea farmers around the world. Some of your favorite brands including The Republic of Tea, Yogi, Pure Leaf, and Lipton are supporting sustainability.

In addition to consuming commercial tea more consciously, foraging your own herbal blends avoids the harmful environmental impacts of tea production. The next few bits of this post will outline some common plants that can be used to make your own homebrews, but this only scratches the surface of many possibilities for making your own wild teas. 

A good tea strainer is a must have when making your own teas


Evergreen needles are easily found throughout the USA and are a great place to start when foraging for tea. They are very fragrant, and rich in vitamin C and multiple antioxidants. These teas generally taste like the smell of Christmas, but needles from different species take on distinct flavors. 

Young needles make the best tea, as older ones tend to accumulate bitter tannins over time. Needles should, therefore, be harvested from the tip of branches, where they’re often lighter in color. Though new growth in early spring makes the best tea, young needles can be harvested year-round. 

To make evergreen tea, just pour boiling water over a large handful of needles and let them steep for around 10 minutes. Cutting up the needles with scissors makes it easier for the needles to infuse. Steeping evergreen teas overnight in cold water instead or as sun tea avoids releasing the bitter tannins, or a sweetener can help balance their flavor.  

Spruce and fir needles make the most Christmassy teas, with a very familiar evergreen scent. This sharp flavor is wonderful when paired with a sweetener like honey. Pine makes a milder tea and is slightly more acidic. Cedar tea is sweeter and stronger than the other evergreen teas. 

Trying out these recipes is a great way to learn to identify major groups of conifers, and to explore the variety they have to offer in scent and flavor. You’ll have a free hot drink on hand year-round!

I love a fun tea set especially when it has a removable strainer built in


The mint family contains a number of common wild species that can be used in natural medicines and herbal teas. Members of the mint family have opposite leaves, bilaterally symmetric flowers, and distinctive square-shaped stems. 

Mint is quite hardy and relatively easy to cultivate yourself for a constant supply of soothing mint tea without foraging.

Read our article Growing and Using Mint

Ground ivy, purple deadnettle, henbit, common self-heal, wild basil, and bee balm can be commonly found in meadows and roadsides across the country and can all be used to make teas. 

Though these plants are members of the mint family, not all of them taste like mint. For example, self-heal has been used to treat cold symptoms, allergic reactions, inflammation, and heart issues. Self-heal tea is not minty, but bitter, and the flowers lend a slight sweetness. Wild basil, on the other hand, mimics the taste of a peppermint tea much more closely. 

Mullein Plant, closeup of leaves, and delicious final product! Pictures by Kaia Waxenberg


Mullein has long been used as a natural remedy for a range of ailments, from respiratory to urinary issues. It can be easily identified by its tall spikes of yellow flowers and large, velvety leaves. Though native to Eurasia, it has become a very common invasive species throughout the US. 

Mullein leaves and flowers contain mucilage, which soothes our internal mucous membranes, and saponins which help loosen mucus for more effective coughs. These properties make mullein tea an effective treatment to alleviate sore throat or cold symptoms. 

The tea can be made from fresh or dried flowers and leaves of the plant. Boil a few tablespoons of the leaves and flowers in water for a few minutes. Mullein leaves are covered in tiny hairs that can irritate the throat, so it is important to strain the tea through a cheesecloth or coffee filter before drinking it. 

Mullein makes a rich, soothing herbal tea with an earthy flavor. Adding a bit of cinnamon to the water as it boils and sweetening with honey at the end creates a flavor almost like that of a sweet rooibos tea. 


St John’s wort is a common yellow wildflower that grows across North America and Eurasia in sunny meadows and pastures. St John’s wort has long been considered a treatment for mild anxiety and depression and is the active ingredient in some over the counter natural medications here in the USA. 

At high densities, St John's wort can be toxic to grazing livestock. This is because it contains the chemical hypericin, which increases the sensitivity of the skin to the sun. In the small quantities taken by humans in herbal medicines or tea, hypericin is perfectly safe. 

Dried or fresh flowers and buds of this common weed make a calming fruity tea that can be cold-brewed overnight or steeped in boiling water for 10 minutes. St John's wort may decrease the absorption of certain drugs, so be sure to research these interactions if you are currently on any medications. 

St. Johns Wort grows wild along roadways and in fields across North America. The plant is poisonous to livestock. Photo credit: Kaia Waxenberg

St. Johns Wort grows wild along roadways and in fields across North America. The plant is poisonous to livestock. Photo credit: Kaia Waxenberg

The wild plants discussed here are just the beginning of the many species that can be foraged in the wild and used to make herbal tea. Some other common wild teas include raspberry leaf, dandelion, sumac, stinging nettle, and pineapple weed to name just a few. Exploring and learning to identify the plants around you is a great way to discover more varieties that can be used in homemade brews. 

There are many online resources for learning to identify wildflowers and trees. The distinct flavors of each wild plant provide fun opportunities to mix and match them. For example, wood sorrel and wild basil can be combined for a natural lemon and mint tea. 

Wild Basil photo by Kaia Waxenberg You can read our article on Growing and Using Basil

Wild Basil photo by Kaia Waxenberg You can read our article on Growing and Using Basil

The chemical diversity which makes wild teas so interesting and varied also lends toxicity to certain plants. Even plants that are generally non-toxic can be harmful in large doses or when taken by certain people.  For example, red clover can be used to make lovely floral tea but can be harmful to women when taken in large doses. This is because natural chemicals in the flower mimic human estrogen hormones. 

Take Away

Be sure to take care when identifying wild plants before ingesting them, and do your research before trying anything new. Take care to only harvest what you intend to use, and avoid harvesting in areas sprayed by pesticides or herbicides, or very close to the road. Give wild plants a thorough rinse before brewing your tea. Happy foraging!

Guest Author Kaia Waxenberg is a native New Yorker and aspiring conservationist. Having just graduated from college, she will be starting graduate work at the University of Edinburgh. Quarantine has given Kaia some unexpected time back home in the US, which she has spent hiking, studying, and gardening.