A mug of tea from our trees: Hemlock

This time around I decided to make a hemlock tea from the needles of Eastern or Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Our native hemlocks are pretty impressive – they can live up to 600 years or longer - some may even reach 1000. As evergreen trees, they provide greenery all year round as well as dense cover and food for our urban wildlife. My first edible introduction to hemlocks was being asked to chew its needles and to describe its taste. “Christmas!” I proclaimed, while others said “winter” and “minty.”

 

 

A mug of hemlock tea

  • Half a palm full of needles from short twig tips
  • Steep for 10-12 minutes in hot/boiling water.
  • Use a filter/strainer to take out the needles and twigs (ex. coffee filter).

 

I was a bit surprised that these descriptions didn’t apply to it in tea form. A dark, pale yellow, it was leafy and distinctly bitter. Still drinkable, but it took awhile to get used to.  And while this is certainly not the same hemlock that killed Socrates, the bitterness almost did me in.  Its strong flavour is most likely due to tannin found in hemlock needles and twigs, which is thought to be responsible for the tree’s medicinal value. In addition, hemlock also has a high vitamin C content like most species in the pine family (Pinaceae). With that in mind, I now think of hemlock tea as the Dimetapp of tree teas – it may taste bad, but it’s good for you.  

 

Hemlock Tea

 

As always, make sure to identify the edible species correctly before picking. There are several tree/shrub and plant identification guides available (books, online, etc) that help differentiate edible and non-edible varieties – be safe! In addition, pick only what you need. Taking out fruits, leaves, and twigs of a tree or shrub is also pruning, which can be stressful especially for younger trees and those in more urbanized areas. Trees and shrubs in our urban forest provides us with many benefits, being edible is only of them. 

 

LEAF offers the Canadian hemlock through their Backyard Tree Planting Program. So if you want to grow your own, book a consultation! And like I always say, enjoy your trees and teas with the people you love most!