The name of the tea “Ivan Chai” was coined by the Western World. “Ivan” is a traditional Russian name, while “Chai” means tea in Russian. It´s also called Kaporie Chai by the name of the village between Estonian border and St.Petersburg.
Before the black tea conquered Russia in the 19th century fermented rosebay willowherb(Chamaenerion angustifolium) aka Ivan Chai used to be most common caffeine free hot drink. For centuries in Europe Russian Tea or Ivan Chai was the tea of commerce. It´s little know that until 1916 Russia was the biggest supplier of tea in the world. During the Crimean and Napoleonic wars in the mid 1800s the trade was disrupted. That infamous tea used to be the second more important export article than linen and fur.
Russian healer Peter Badmayev opened up a clinic for aristocrats at the beginning of the 20th century. Many of his remedies that where consumed by the members of the tsars family where made with rosebay willowherb. The clinic became very popular and many patients came from all over the world to find cure. Doctor Badmadyev claimed that plant elixirs containing Ivan Chai might extend human life but he was arrested at the age of 109 during the October Revolution by the bolsheviks in 1917 accused of anti-revolution views. He was tortured for couple months in a prison and after liberation he died as his heath had became worse. Despite of all that he never told the secrets about the magical life prolonging elixir to anyone. After that commercial production of Ivan Chai stopped entirely after the October Revolution of 1917 because However, fireweed continued to be used as an herbal supplement in Russian homes.
At some point a few years later the bolsheviks came to their senses again and realized that Ivan Chai might still be useful for the people. In the village of Koporje, which is situated not far from Estonia in between Narva and St. Petersburg a scientific factory was build to produce a uniqe drink for the soldiers of the Red Army. It was common knowledge among Russian peasants that drinking Ivan Chai can help to cope with physically very demanding activities.
In the summer of 1941 Hitler gave an order to send the forces towards Koporje village to destroy an object“The River of Life“(«Река жизни») instead of heading directly to Leningrad(St. Petersburg). The whole idea had one goal – to destroy the experimental factory producing elixirs mainly containing infamous Ivan Chai. Hitler was in awe of the potentally powerful drink as his spies had stated that in this factory´s labratory a drink is being developed that might increase Russian soldiers fighting capacity and endurance. Koporje was destroyed, all the factories eliminated, documents burnt and people who where involved in this project were shot on the spot.
Willowherb is a first colonizer plant that restores the soil and prepares the forest for regeneration, after a disturbance. That´s why it grows so abuntantly in wastelands and places where forest has been clear cut.
What Ivan Chai contains?
It´s caffeine free!
Depending on the soil Ivan chai contains around 70 microelements, various B-vitamins and has 5-6 times more vitamin-C than lemon.
Supposedly those health promoting efects are accociated with willowherb:
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Balances digestive health
- Improves concentration
- Supports the kidneys and urinary system
- Encourages new blood cell production
- Relieves migraines and tension headaches
- Prevents cavities
- Boosts immunesystem
- Improves energy levels
- Promotes relaxation thats´s why in Russian „the napper“
- Improves mood
- Helps with insomnia
- Strengthens circulation
- Detoxfies body after food – or alcohol poisoning
- Reduces inflammation
How to make Ivan Chai?
1.Pick tender leaves before flowering.
2.Rub the leaves to release the moisture inside and make them into small balls.
3.Place them in a small jar and press down. Close the lid loosely so the gases produced turing the fermentation process can escape.
4. Leave it in a dark place for 1-7 days to ferment. Check every day and make sure there is no mold. The smell should be pleasant and sweet and the leaves turned dark green not blown or yellow.
5. Leave them to dry.
6. Toast for couple of minutes if you like.
7. Store in an airtight container.
How to make the tea?
Ivan Chai is great for a hot drink but also for making an ice-tea. Boil 1 L water at 80 degrees Celcius and add 1 tsp herb. Let it brew for 5-7 min. Enjoy! The same leaves can be used for making 1-3 brews and can store for up to 3 days.