by ali on August 28th, 2015
We love wild grown teas, from the amazing stories of tea pickers trekking up steep mountains to abandoned tea farms left to grow untamed for decades, to learning how traditional practices of wild harvesting and foraging still support entire communities. Wild grown teas and herbal tisanes are thrilling to discover and drink.
Many wild teas and herbal tisanes have developed completely naturally, and entirely uncultivated. Other ‘wild’ teas are not completely wild – they come from once-established tea farms which have been long abandoned, sometimes for many decades. A farm may have been abandoned by an owner who decided to desert its remote location to find work in a city, or perhaps the tea farm was state-owned and went bankrupt during one of China’s many economic reforms. Either way, the tea trees are left to their own devices and continue to grow naturally. At some point, local farmers discover these now wild tea fields, and perhaps decide to make a small proportion of excellent tea from the leaves.
One of the pitfalls that wild teas face is sustainable harvesting. If these wild bushes are over-harvested, they cannot recover and they die out. For example many herbs used in Chinese medicine are near extinction due to over-harvesting in the wild.
The ways our wild teas counter this is through controlled and gentle harvesting. For example, our Wild Mountain Dragon Well is only harvested on one day each year. The day varies dependent on the weather. Tea pickers wake up at 3am to trek the 1,300 metres up the mountain to pick the leaves, from trees over 100 years old. The farm was abandoned over three decades ago, the leaves growing wild and unpruned ever since. Because of the incredibly clean environment and the fact that the bushes are only picked once a year, the tea has a very strong cha qi. Likewise, our new Wild Mountain Mao Feng was picked on just one day this spring from 80 year old tea bushes growing wild on an abandoned tea farm, high in the mountains of Chunan County. Mao Feng literally translates as ‘Hairy Peak’, defined by the leaves’ distinctive twisted shape and light covering of little hairs. The leaves are processed by an eco-conscious co-op who shun the use of fertiliser and pesticides.
Other Wild Teas and Tisanes
PURPLE BUD VARIETAL TEA TREES
Elusive purple bud varietal tea trees grow wild in the mountains west of Mang Shi, Dehong. As the name would suggest, the leaves of the plant are purple; the colour ranges from red to very dark- almost black purple. These tea trees are mutants, the purple colour a result of naturally occurring flavonoids, which produce this colour to attract insects and animals. Purple bud trees represent a mere 1% of the tree population in Yunnan, so their leaves are rare and highly prized for making Puerh and black tea. This rarity also means that the leaves are handled with reverence and great care, and the resulting teas are exquisite. Ali and Jen hiked to the wild tea mountain during their trip to China in 2013, and experienced these mutant trees for themselves, an experience they describe as ‘completely thrilling for all rare tea hunters’. These purple bud varietal leaves are used to make our De Hong Ye Sheng raw puerh cakes.
WILD PURPLE CHRYSANTHEMUM
Wild Purple Chrysanthemum flowers grow entirely uncultivated in the mountains beyond Qiaoban village in Chunan, Zhejiang Province. They grow high, at altitudes of 1,460 metres, where the air is pure and clear. Their harvesting remains strictly traditional, the farmers trekking by foot to seek out the flowers, and bringing them back down the mountain carried in baskets atop donkeys.
WILD ORGANIC ROOIBOS
Rooibos is a naturally caffeine-free herbal infusion indigenous to South Africa, also known as Redbush and Bush Tea. Where many crops fail, these ochre-needled bushes thrive in the harsh heat and tough soil, growing in a symbiotic relationship with local micro-organisms. Attempts to grow Rooibos anywhere outside of South Africa have so far failed. The plant is related to the legume (pea and bean) family, yet is processed in much the same way as green tea. Most is grown in Cederberg Province, and 98% is cultivated. However, there is one area where Rooibos grows wild, near a small and isolated town called Wupperthal. Most families in Wupperthal depend on small-scale farming to make a living, and the most important crop in the area is Rooibos. The Wupperthal Original Rooibos Co-op was founded in 1990 to better regulate the industry and market prices. Now, there are 74 farming members of the community. Due to the high quality of the organic product the members of the co-op are able to achieve double the market value for their crop. This allows the farmers to focus their efforts on improving their product instead of having to take outside seasonal work. This has had a great beneficial effect on the community who are going from strength to strength.
WILD JORDANIAN MINT
The Wild Jordanian Mint that we use in our Triple Mint blend comes from the Ajloun Valley. We buy it through a company called Wild Jordan, part of The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Wild Jordan is focused on promoting socio-economic development around protecting nature. They create nature-based businesses, such as eco-tourism, to conserve biodiversity and protect wildlife habitats while producing hundreds of jobs for local communities. The Ajloun Valley is a lush and incredibly fertile area. Its thriving woodlands are filled with Carob, wild Pistachio and Strawberry trees, a wide variety of wild flowers including the Black Iris, orchids and tulips, herds of wild boar, Stone Martens, golden Jackals, Red Foxes, Striped Hyenas, Persian Squirrels, Indian Crested Porcupines, and wolves. In addition, throughout the valley, numerous herbs grow wild: sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, and mint, to name but a few. The local people have harvested these wild herbs for generations, so when Wild Jordan arrived to promote conservation, they helped the community develop this traditional practice into a successful business.