I got into a — uh — er — “discussion” with someone on Twitter who swears that the “wild tea” I had just reviewed wasn’t — wild, that is. His claim was that the tea plant/tree had to be at least 100 years old and basically uncultivated, that is, unpruned, unirrigated, or otherwise aided in its growth by the hand of man. (Some of these tea plants/trees can get 30 feet tall; others, depending on their growing conditions, can get even taller.)
So what is “wild tea”? Time to find out.
Online search engines are devoid of any kind of discernment. If an item contains a certain string of characters, then that item will show up on the search hit list. Searching for “wild tea” kept popping up hits to articles about non-teas — tisanes made from things like strawberry leaves, dandelions, etc., the sort of stuff you pluck out of your flowerbeds. Also, hits popped up on vodka wild tea, but Bill Lengeman already covered that! Plus, “wild tea party” kept showing up — not even going there!
One site I found defined “wild tea” as a specific type of plant, described as follows:
Wild Tea is a plant 2-5 m tall. Branches are slender, 3-angled when young. Leaf blade is grayish green, 1.2-6 × 0.6-2 cm, leathery, sometimes wrinkled on both surfaces. Leaf tip is pointed, cusped or rounded. … Flowers are about 4 mm in diameter, with 3 petals, yellow or green, sometimes flushed brown, about 1.5 mm long. … Fruit is round or pear-shaped, 4.5-10 mm in diameter, orange to red when ripe, drying pale blackish. Flowering: April-June.
I don’t think this is what the tea vendor meant by labeling their tea as “wild tea” nor what the person on Twitter meant when he said the tea was not wild. the vendor’s site said they were talking about tea plants that had grown without a gardener’s tender, loving care — Camellia Sinensis that is uncultivated. The plants had been abandoned for a decade or so and were now once again being cultivated properly. It seems that that whole “discussion” on Twitter was a proverbial tempest in a teapot, as the tea expression goes.
Think about it: most of what we now eat is a cultivated form of a wild plant or was bred from them. Tea is no exception. Such cultivation benefits us and the plants. We get more of the part of the plant that we can consume, and the plant is healthier for the attention, including proper pruning and maintaining (as much as possible) a proper amount of moisture. Supplying proper nutrients through fertilizers and controlling the growth of other plants nearby so that they do not compete for those nutrients as well as the moisture also helps. Yes, gone are the days of foraging for most of us.
The wild tea I tried was quite delightful, but when compared to similar, “cultivated” versions, I don’t think the flavor and aroma were distinguishable. Something to bear in mind if you are thinking of paying more for the “wild” kind of tea.
A final thought: if there is “wild tea,” is there “tame tea”?
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