Fernbush Tea… Oy!

I’ve been discovering many new herbs and wild foods lately. Out foraging for what we can, I ID new things when possible, or go searching for things I’m already familiar with. It has been kinda fun, and we’ve discovered some real treasures.

Brigham Tea is ok. It needs sugar, but does not taste bad. I went looking for that on purpose. That got me looking at bushes on the side of the road, the majority of which are rabbit brush and sagebrush, in varying tones of gray and gray green.

Then coming home one day I saw a green bush on the side of a back road. NOT sagebrush. Real green. So we came back later to get a better look.

A 2-3 ft bush, with leaf clusters running up each branch, that were beginning to sprout out. Each leaf cluster looked like a little fern plant – six or eight little fern like leaves in this perfect little arrangement.

I broke off a piece to take home and ID it. Once in the car, I noticed the leaves had a kind of nice perfumy smell. Well, on the surface. Very pleasant on first whiff. Running underneath that though, a distinctly yucky smell. Not something I can describe easily, but sort of heavily oily and with an edge of things rotted, and just barely resinous, and yet mellow at the same time.  Odd, really, I’ve never smelled something that had two distinctly different odors about it, but this did.

I looked it up, identified it positively as Fernbush. I mean, how many bushes out there have such a distinctive leaf arrangement, growing in that particular habitat? No doubt about the ID. The descriptions often mentioned that the leaves were “fragrant”.

I then researched edibility (struck out), and medicinal use. Turns out it was traditionally used to make a tea for various purposes, recreational, ritual, and medicinal. Ok, I’ll bite. Some of the medicinal uses sounded like ones that might benefit me.

I made up a syrup (easier to preserve than tea). That resulted in a HEAVY and nauseating emphasis on the yucky smell. The perfumy part was still there, but overpowered and tainted by the other odor.

We tried a little. The taste was pretty foul. A neutral sweetness from the sugar and a bit of the perfumy at first, followed by a gagging yuck ending with a hit and run resinous grab at your tonsils, and then nothing. No lingering aftertaste. A small mercy!

This isn’t like Yarrow, or Hops, or even Calendula, where the sharp bitterness and awfulness that the bitterness just seems to encapsulate, where it yanks at your throat and stays there. Not that kind of yuck. Not the kind that turns your face inside out. and makes you cough and grab water. This was very different. Like the difference between being wrapped up in unwashed coyote fur, compared to being sprayed by a skunk (the fernbush being the coyote fur, the skunk being Yarrow or Hops). I did not know this particular force of yuck could exist!

I tried it with some vanilla added. And a little butter rum flavoring. Because they seemed like they would possibly dampen the yucky. They enhanced the perfumy side, but didn’t even DENT the icky part. Sort of like putting rotted cod liver oil on top of buttercream frosting, and being able to totally taste both flavors.

Still hoping to use it as a medicinal, I tried it mixed with a few other medicinal syrups. Oddly, when you try to make a good tasting substance out of that bush, you fail. Nothing you add to it seems to overpower the ickyness. But even more oddly, when I mixed it with about three other syrups (none of them any too pleasant, actually, they are all just tolerable to get down), the resulting blend was like most medicinal tea – not pleasant, but not horridly nasty either. Somehow, blending that yucky syrup with several other less than enjoyable flavors, resulted in something that was somewhere in the middle where medicinal experiences go!

I think that it bears experimenting with a little more, I will try the blossoms and see if they produce something more pleasant, and less unpleasant. For now, I can get the mixes down, and should know in a week or so, whether it is helping with the issues I am taking it for.

When I heard that it was sometimes used as a recreational tea, not just a medicinal tea, I somehow thought it would taste better, because I cannot honestly imagine that anyone would want to drink the stuff for fun, unless their noses don’t pick up on that second overpowering awfulness to the same extent that mine does. But Kevin smells it the same way I do, so it can’t just be me!

The cool thing is though, ANYONE can identify this bush, if they see it, wild, or in gardens. Whether or not they want to take a chance on the medicinal tea though, depends on how much they need it!

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