Since moving to Montana, I've been going on hikes with Connor nearly every morning. It's been a really nice way to familiarize myself with this city and check out the local plants. It's also been great for me to get outdoors. Between intense Montana weather and writing the book, I've been a real indoor cat, which is not normal for me.
Last weekend, we got in the van and drove out to one of the many nearby forests. I'll admit, that my anxiety has been a little off the charts this year and especially with the recent move, so spending time outdoors has been vital for me. Once we found our campsite, we scrounged together some money for the reservation (sorry for all the change, Forest Service!) and parked the van. It was one of the best designated campsites I've ever been at. A large picnic table sat next to a fire pit, hidden from the road by overgrown trees and flowering brush. A small path to the side of the clearing, lead to the creek, which looked much more like a river with all the flooding we've had lately.
As we explored the campground, my heart began to flutter and a child like excitement overcame me. I turned to Connor and exclaimed, "this is the best place in the world!!!" What really got me, was the abundance of medicinal plants around me. Spruce tips, woodruff, cleavers and mushrooms! It felt like the Disney World of herbalism in that moment, and I couldn't have been happier.
Conifer tips are not only delicious, but they are filled with vitamins that are perfect for fighting off colds. They taste and smell of the forest in such a way, that it's impossible not to feel like you're next to a roaring campfire while sipping on a doug fir tip tea or adding a bit of this oxymel to a cocktail. (Try it with gin or vodka and some fizzy water or elderflower soda!) Conifer tips appear in mid-late spring and go fast, so now is the time to keep an eye out for those light colored tree tips.
I decided to make an oxymel with my humble harvest. They are so simple to make and they last.. forever? I'm not entirely sure, but since the preserving liquid is vinegar, any oxymel will last you through to the next season. Take an oxymel on it's own or add it to your preferred drink. Bon Appetit has a great article on oxymels that you can find HERE.
As always, never harvest more than you need! And you don't need as much as you think you do. And always always ALWAYS, make sure you are harvesting the correct plant.
1 cup tightly pack doug fir or spruce tips
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup honey or agave
Inspect tips for bugs and other little critters and place in a jar along with cinnamon sticks and honey. Completely cover with apple cider vinegar. Cap tightly and shake. Infuse for 2 weeks in a cool, light proof space and shake daily. After infusion time, strain herbs and store in a clean, airtight jar. I like to keep my herbal vinegar in the fridge, but any cool space will do.