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.
Rhododendron syn. Ledum palustre is a Eurasian relative of famous labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum). Leaves of the plants that grow in Estonian marshes are tiny comparasing to the one growing in Greenland and North America.
As the plant has so many names it must´ve been used frequently by all the natives in those regions where the climate and soils are challeging for all living beings. In Estonia it´s called “sookail” or “päävalurohi”(head ache medicine).
I visited my former science teacher Aivi Maandi(78) in her log house with a mossy rooftop on an exeptionally warm autumn day. She is an author of various herbal medicine and natural dyes´ books, which were so popular that it´s difficult to find a copy of them in the book stores. Aivi used to be a teacher of chemistry, biology and geography in Emmaste elementary school. She grew up in a talu(traditiona estonian farm house) in Järvamaa and has always been drawn to forest as long as she remembers. And being an elderly lady Aivi still feels that way because working around plants is very important part of life as it boosts the energy and makes her happy.
I tried that famous Russian ivan chai first time couple of years ago and thought I had found another one to call my favorite tea. I used to(still do) love Greek shepherd’s tea(Sideritis) but it isn´t always that easy to find it in fresh quality. I don´t mind classical fermented eastern teas but as I´m sensitive to caffeine I can´t enjoy them in the evening unless I want to stay up until morning. I tryed to ferment raspberry leaves and I totally adore the taste of that tea now.
We have always gathered wild raspberry leaves and sometimes even the whole braches in springtime to make a detoxing and energizing tea. Raspberries are one of the first ones here to open it´s leaves and as it´s growing so rapidly everywhere around the island´s sandy pasture lands and on natural hugelbeds (et. sakla vallid).
Lemongrass(Cymbopogon flexuosus) grows naturally in tropics and subtropics but it is possible to grow it in temperate climate too. Long fiberous leaves have a fresh citrusy smell and taste. Aromatic leaves of the herb are widely used in asian dishes, aromatherapy and tea infusions. Also the essencial oil pressed from lemongrass is an effective natural insect repellent. Growing lemongrass from seed can be a tricky experiment because they need constant temperatures over 22 °C. It is much easier to buy the stems from the supermarket or asian store and grow them vegetatively. Sometimes they already have grown little roots in the package.
Recently while I was on a forest walk I noticed something green from the distance laying on the ground. It is not that warm yet and the leaves aren´t open yet, neither it didn´t seem to be moss or plastic waste brought by last autumn´s storms. I walked towards the unknown green object and kneeled down to get a better look. It was a typical glass coffee jar, which I had found couple of time earlier too. Some Bolivian coffee jars with faded but firmly stuck lables, which don´t come off with any dishwashing liquid are still in use.