This Bud's for You: A Guide to Backwoods Beverages
You're out in your favorite backwoods paradise. The birds are chirping and the sun is shinning. The hard work you are putting in has paid off and you have an amazing shelter built with a crackling fire burning. Your brother looks at you and says, "You are much more of a gifted bushcrafter. I aspire to be just like you some day." I'm sure he will remember this story differently. However, something unexpected is occurring today. There are no cataclysmic tornadoes, raging floods or subzero conditions to keep you busy. Life is good. Now what do you do?
You have a perfect opportunity to sit back and enjoy nature. This is what it's about, after all. With the hard work you exerted, you think to yourself, "I wish I had a refreshing drink". A refreshing beverage you shall have.
Staghorn Sumac, not to be confused with Poison Sumac, is a shrub indigenous to the Northeastern Woodlands of North America. It can easily be identified by its cone shaped cluster of red berries and compound leaves. Simply crush 3-6 berry clusters and place them in 8-12 cups of cold water. After 8-16 hours, strain out the berries and add your favorite sweetener (I prefer honey). The tasty infusion is similar to pink lemonade and was used by Native Americans to treat dysentery, scurvy, fever and sore throats.
Pine needle tea is another delicious and easy to make drink. I usually use Red or White Pine needles, due to their ease of identification. However, needles from other true Pines can be used, as well. To make pine needle tea, break up about a cup of pine needles. Boil a quart of water and remove it from the heat source. Add the pine needles to the water and
allow it to sit for 15 minutes. If desired, add your favorite sweetener. You can drink the beverage hot or cold. Pine needle tea is extremely high in Vitamin C and A. Also, it contains B vitamins, calcium, iron, and potassium. It should give you a quick "pick me up" after a hard days work.
For a refreshing root beer-tasting drink, try a cup of Sassafras tea. Gather 3-4 pieces of quarter inch sassafras root. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the roots. Allow the roots to simmer until the water turns a dark, brownish red. Strain out the roots and add sweetener if desired. Please note, sassafras tea contains safrole. A 1960's study suggested large doses of safrole injected into lab rats over prolonged periods of time caused liver cancer. However, there haven't been any studies on the effects on humans. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates the risks to humans are similar to breathing indoor air or drinking municipally supplied water. The amount of safrole in Sassafras tea is, also, far lower than the amount injected into rats. As with anything, drink in moderation.
Red and White Clover can be used to make a sweet tasting iced tea. Clover can be found in most yards and grassy meadows. To make the tea, gather 2 cups of the white or purple flower tops. Boil 4 cups of water and remove it from the heat source. Add the flowers to the water and allow it to steep for 10 minutes. If you would like your tea to be a little sweeter, add honey or sugar. Clover tea is known to treat numerous health conditions and contains vitamins A, B-complex, B2 and C.
For our final beverage, lets talk about Ground Ivy Tea. Ground Ivy, a balsamic mint, was brought to North America by early settlers. Historically, this plant was used by Vikings as an alternative to hops in ale. For this reason, the plant, also, goes by the name Alehoof. Infusions derived from this minty plant make a cooling tea, known as Gill tea. This drink is exceptionally refreshing on hot summer days. To make this tea, collect a cup of chopped leaves. Boil a quart of water and remove it from the heat source. Add the chopped leaves and allow it to steep for 10-15 minutes. If too bitter, add sweetener to taste.
Now, you know of several delicious drinks made from plants in most areas of North America. Kick back and enjoy your time outdoors. As always,
Journey Past Your Limits!