Last week, we served Yerba Buena Tea to attendees at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, and I was impressed anew by the subtly pleasing qualities of this easy-to-make tea from the California native groundcover called Satureja douglasii. This wonderful little plant from the mint family grows under oak trees, where it is said to be difficult to find plants that survive, especially if you follow the rule to avoid watering out of season under oak trees. This rule is important because some diseases attacking oaks come from the unCalifornian combination of moisture and heat, which is not normally occurring in a Mediterranean climate like ours in California. Actually, I think it's easy to garden or plant under oak trees, but that's another topic.
Yerba buena also can be found thriving at the edge of chaparral and coastal scrub, making a lovely neat chartreuse edging along paths and trails. In the early days of our 30-year-old Larner Seeds Demonstration Garden in Bolinas, I couldn't get yerba buena to do well. Now that "things," and by "things," I mean the many qualities of shade and sun and soil that have developed through the years, have changed, it takes off and seems to do well everywhere we put it, except where outcompeted by native blackberry.
So I have lots of material for tea-making. For a crowd, I use approximately two masses or clumps of stems and leaves that would fit in both my hands to make a 4-quart stockpot full of tea. This is always a matter of taste, but I prefer it rather mild. Rinse it off and remove oak leaves that seem to always be caught in it and pour boiling water over it. Let soak for ten or fifteen minutes. I've also let it soak for a very long time, up to 12 hours, to make a concentrate, such as for bringing to the Expo. Once there, I diluted the one quart of concentrate with two to four gallons of filtered water. I also like to put some sprigs of yerba buena into my drinking water at the beginning of a hike.
It is so refreshing in its mild way, having nothing to do with caffeine, and it seemed to be greatly appreciated by thirsty Expo-goers. One sampler called it "amazingly hydrating." When frequently asked about its medicinal qualities, since it seems we can't be bothered drinking something without a confirmed health benefit, I repeated the simple instructions given us by Milton "Bun" Lucas, Pomo Indian, who is no longer with us, but who left many of us with treasured information. Bun said that he saved it for special occasions so as to retain its efficacy, using it for colds, or, as at the Expo, for times of unusual demands, which could describe a fair of 20,000 people. That was the pre-estimated number, though I, of course, didn't serve yerba buena tea to that many people.
But I almost could have.