twigs, a long steeping time, and water that is well
below boiling temperature. Boiling water vaporizes the volatile chemicals that impart the characteristic odor and flavor. Those wintergreen odors
are a helpful aid to identification: just scratch and
sniff. (Further details about brewing these teas
can be found in the Winter 2014 issue.)
Second, teas can be made all year from the
needles of any of our native pines. The easiest
to find in most of our region is the familiar white
pine (Pinus strobus). Needles should be stripped
from the twigs, and I prefer to chop off the papery
sheaths at the bottom. The piney flavor is strong,
and I recommend steeping only a teaspoon or two
of fresh needles in about a pint of water. Unlike
with the birches, I use boiling water, and I steep for
only about two to three minutes before removing
the needles. A tea ball is helpful, but needles can
also be strained in a colander. Alternatively, most
of the tea can be decanted from the top of the
container, as the needles will sink after several
minutes of steeping.
Pine-needle tea is not as beloved as that of the
birches. The renowned forager Euell Gibbons, a
man with an adventurous palate, quipped wryly
that pine-needle tea left him with “a feeling of
great virtue.” While this tea may be strongly
flavored, I don’t find it distasteful. I like to brew it
with sweet-tasting herbs like anise.
There are claims on the Internet that pine-needle tea is everything from an “immune booster”
to a cancer preventive. They are likely overblown.
But for our predecessors, it was almost certainly
an essential nutritional tonic during the winter
months. High in vitamin A and extraordinarily high
in vitamin C, this tea must have kept scurvy away
from many a mountain camp.
Blessed as I am to live in a time when I can
get fresh greens and oranges in the depths of
January, I’m in no danger of scurvy. But I still drink
wild winter teas. They remind me that even in the
darkest times and most desolate places, nourishment can be found by those who look.
[ NATURALLY CURIOUS ]
Eagles obtain food mainly in three ways – by capturing it, by stealing it, or by scavenging it. When
securing their own live prey, they hunt from perches or soar over suitable habitat, taking most
prey on the wing. Bald eagles’ preferred food is live fish, but they are opportunistic foragers;
about 40 percent of their diet is composed of birds and mammals.
In winter, carrion becomes an especially important component. Leftover ice-fishing bait and/
or rejected catches and roadkill are heavily used sources of food this time of year. If the carrion
is small enough – like this opossum – it is often carried to a perch where it is inconspicuously
eaten. Larger carrion that is too big to carry off is repeatedly visited until consumed.
— Mary Holland