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How to make rosebay willowherb tea (Ivan's tea)

This traditional Russian tea recipe uses rosebay willowherb, also known as bombweed, fireweed and blooming Sally.

A pot of rosebay willowherb tea (also known as Ivan's tea), plus two cups of tea, on a wooden table.
Published: June 23, 2022 at 7:00 am
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My favoured use for rosebay willowherb is in the preparation of Ivan's tea, or Koporye tea. Unlike so many other herbal teas, including ordinary black tea, it is not diuretic.

As you may have guessed from the name, Ivan's tea is a popular drink from Russia. It is thought to have originated sometime in the twelth or thirteenth century in the village of Kopoyre around sixty miles west of St Petersburg.

A woman collects leaves from rosebay willowherb plants.
A woman collects leaves from rosebay willowherb plants for making tea. © Alexsandr Zubkov/Getty

It is quite unlike the herbal teas you might be used to from tea bags, with a flavour closer to green tea than one made with nettle or peppermint.

It is naturally free of caffeine, so can be drunk at any time of day.

In the early nineteenth century, enterprising crooks used the naturally abundant leaves to adulterate imported tea leaves. A parliamentary investigation in 1835 found that over four million pounds in weight of ‘fictitious tea’ had been sold in Britain, much of it coming from rosebay willowherb and sloe.


Method

  • STEP 1

    Remove the leaves from the plant by pulling your hand down the stem, gathering fistula as you go – this can be done at home, or with the plant in situ to ensure it still goes to seed.

  • STEP 2

    Wash the leaves, then pat them dry and lay them out on a sheet outside to wilt for four to five hours if sunny, 12 hours if cloudy.

  • STEP 3

    Roll the leaves, two to four at a leat, into little balls then put them into a ceramic bowl.

  • STEP 4

    Cover the bowl with a tea towel or saucer and leave to ferment for at leas six hours, or as long as four days. Longer ferments produce a more complex flavour.

  • STEP 5

    Once fermented, the leaves will have a floral smell and will have lost their grass-like scent.

  • STEP 6

    Dry in a dehydrator or on the lowest heat in an over for between four and 12 hours, checking until the leaves feel dry.


This recipe is an extract from Where The Wild Things Grow by David Hamilton, published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Where The Wild Things Grow Cover

Main image: Rosebay willowherb tea (Ivan's tea). © David Hamilton

Authors

David HamiltonForager, photographer and author
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