Fresh Conifer Tea Infusion

By Riverdave Owen

Practical Herbal Pharmacy Class Project

Fall Term 2010

Pacific Rim College 

Victoria, British Columbia   


Photo of conifer leaves: 

top: sitka spurce

middle: grand fir, western hemlock, Douglas fir, western redcedar

bottom: pacific yew (toxic to humans - for visual comparison only)





     Making teas from the fresh leaves of local conifers is a practice as old as humanity.  In every part of the world, but especially in cool temperate and boreal climate zones, hot teas are a welcome and necessary part of warming, nourishing and protecting the body. Both leaves and inner bark are often used, but to avoid injury to the trees, I am using only easily harvested leaves.


     I have chosen five common conifer trees native to the coastal forests of southeastern Vancouver Island.  I have researched the nutritional and medicinal  use of these trees by first nations groups and other inhabitants of the island. The therapeutic actions claimed by these users cover virtually every ailment one could encounter, both acute and chronic.  


     If there is any convergence in the patterns of the use of these plants, it might be around their inclusion in teas as an internal antiseptic warmer and therefore as a seasonal tonic for winter and early spring cold and flu seasons.  Their abundant essential oils contain strong anti-microbial properties, probably having evolved as secondary compounds to deter wild herbivores. These trees also contain high amounts of vitamin C and have a pleasant, aromatic taste that transmits to the drinker the wild essence of the local conifer forests and the lands thereabout. 


     I have experimented with five species of local conifers in tea preparations in the past several months and find them to be warming, antiseptic and even stimulating. They are probably at their height of potency and freshness in the spring, although they can be used in any season. I have added a bit of local licorice fern root as sweetener, or when not available, I add honey.  



Pour one liter of hot (not boiling) water over a total of 30 grams (one ounce) of fresh leafy spray tips from the following trees - one 10 centimeter spray weighs approximately 6 grams: 


Douglas Fir - Pseudotsuga menziesii - 6 grams

Grand Fir - Abies grandis - 6 grams

Western Hemlock - Tsuga heterophylla - 6 -grams (sister tree to Tsuga canadensis, the Eastern Hemlock of Eastern America )

Western Redcedar - Thuja plicata - 6 grams (sister tree to Thuja occidentalis, the Arborvitae of Eastern America)

Sitka Spruce - Picea sitchensis - 6 grams 


If sweetener is desired, add 10 centimeters of ground licorice fern root (Polypodium glycyrrihiza) or a teaspoon of honey.  Steep for ten minutes. The leaves can be reused several times




     It is extremely important to be certain of the identity of the trees harvested.  The Pacific Yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) has needles that can easily be confused with the grand fir or western hemlock.  The needles of the Yew are toxic to humans, possibly with severe consequences.  I strongly encourage any new harvester to first learn to identify the Yew tree before harvesting the other conifers in this recipe. Bring along a mentor if your are not familiar with plant identification.


     Also, certain compounds in the western redcedar may prove toxic to humans if taken in large quantities.  I therefore encourage the harvester not to use more than 6 grams of Thuja (redcedar or arborvitae) per liter of tea.  As far as I can tell from my limited research, the other tree species mentioned above do not present toxicity issues when taken in modest amounts.  Decoctions of all these species may be helpful in targeting specific health issues, especially as an external wash or compress. But these decoctions require special attention to dosing and should be learned only  under the mentorship of someone experienced in their medicinal use.

Photo: licorice fern roots as sweetener, common in the Pacific Northwest