Brewing a cup of conifer needle tea

Douglas fir  Dawn Hanna photographer

Douglas fir
Dawn Hanna photographer

After a late fall walk in the forest, especially now that the weather is cool and damp, one may find one’s thoughts turning towards a hot cup of tea.

But rather than the usual cuppa, why not indulge in something a little different? Why not sample the delights of a cup of tea brewed from native conifer needles?

True, conifer needle tea will not give you a caffeine high. And most species have delicate flavours that cannot compete with bolder supermarket herbal teas, but conifer needle tea is high in vitamin C and each species has its own special nuance. To me, western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) has somewhat of a grapefruity tinge. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) has citrusy notes with just a sweet hint of resin. Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is lovely and aromatic. And on it goes.

If you’d like to try making a cup yourself, start with an easy species like Douglas fir. Here’s what you’ll need to do* Collect a small branchlet of Douglas fir needles (Douglas fir trees are notorious self-pruners, dropping lots of little branchlets on the ground — so no need to cut anything from a tree)

  • Wash the branchlet and needles thoroughly in warm water to get rid of dirt, spider webs and any other debris
  • Put in a warm, dry location and wait for the needles to dry out (at least a week)
  • Once the needles are sufficiently dry, strip them from the branchlet
    (You can wash them again if you want, but you’ll need to let them dry out again)
  • When you’re ready to make a cup of tea, measure out a tablespoon of needles per cup of water. Crush the needles in a mortar & pestle (or with a rolling pin) to release the oils within. Pour boiling water over the crushed needles and steep for at least five minutes (or longer, according to your taste).
  • Sweeten (if desired) to your taste.

 If you enjoy Douglas fir needle tea, you can expand your repertoire to try other native conifers such as western hemlock, Sitka spruce and grand fir (Abies grandis). Just collect in a respectful sustainable way, i.e. collect from fallen branches or fallen trees; don’t cut branchlets or branches from living trees.

It’s also important to note that there are some native conifers that you should NEVER use to make teas because of the extremely powerful compounds contained within the leaves: western red-cedar (Thuja plicata) and Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) are both on your NO-BREW list. They contain substances that are extremely toxic to people if ingested.