Wintergreen tea

I read that, in order to extract the essential oil (methyl salicylate) from wintergreen, you need to let the leaves ferment in water.  To do that, you apparently (read: various crackpot websites instruct you to) put the leaves in water in a sealed jar, and leave them in a warm place for a few days. 

Fermentation?  In a few days?  I was skeptical.

I did as instructed, and I have a potent wintergreen-flavored brew, but I don’t think any fermentation has been going on.

To make the tea, I added a couple of teaspoons of the wintergreen concoction to ordinary brewed tea (Lyon’s Green Label), and sweetened it with a little honey.  It wasn’t bad at all.

I’m letting the rest of the leaves continue to steep.  If it does ferment, it’ll be alcoholic, won’t it?  Wintergreentinis, anyone?

2 people are having a conversation about “Wintergreen tea

  1. according to Euell Gibbons (he is citing other 3rd party sources here), fermentation is necessary to further develop the flavors we describe as wintergreen.

    the “crackpot” part of the advice you read i think is putting it in a sealed jar. to get fermentation going and reduce risk of mold, you want airflow and aeration! read: no lid (maybe a towel or cheesecloth to keep bugs out), and stirring a few times a day to aerate.

    depending on the yeasts in your area (and house, and on the leaves themselves), fermentation can become noticeable anywhere between 2 days and 2 weeks. the first time i did a wild fermentation in my house, it took 2 weeks. now it typically takes only a few days. if the plant has a long ethnohistory of fermentation, i wouldn’t be surprised if there are strains of yeast that live symbiotically on the tea leaves. regardless, to redevelop such a symbiosis, i would take to dumping the fermented leaves back out near the plant for a season or two…the yeast will lay dormant on the leaf surface, much like it does on the surface of fruit.

    apparently you can also dry the leaves after their fermented “cold steep” and use them for hot-brewing more cups like you would any other tea:

  2. The jar does indeed need to be sealed, which actually inhibits mold/rot as it creates an anaerobic environment. Think about it, wine is bottled after a lengthy sealed fermentation (oxygen allows the nasty fungi and bacteria to thrive).

    In terms of alcohol content, there would be a negligible amount only proportional to the amount of preexisting sugar in the leaves. Again consider wine, it is made from a very sugary fruit and has a c. 13-15% alcohol content. Beer is made from fermented seeds (malted barley/wheat) which are themselves more sugary than leaves and yield 4-6% alcohol content. As you can imagine, leaves themselves yield even less.

    I make this type of tea often by sealing leaves with water in a mason jar. By about the third day, the chamber becomes pressurized and the fluid carbonated. Upon opening (just like a bottle of beer) the bubbles begin streaming upward and there is a pleasantly powerful fragrance of mint. You want to heat the water in a double boiler fashion until it’s sufficiently warm as the minty oil is easily driven off (like alcohol) by heat. I do this with the lid present, but not secured. It yields a pleasant cup (which also contains safe levels of the active ingredient in aspirin).

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