There are a thousand and one ways to flavour your fermented drinks. Why not explore the flavours of Canada’s wild plants in your next fermented drink?
In Canada, many local plants are waiting to be appreciated. A great way to rediscover these flavours is to use them to flavour kombucha, water kefir, wild soda, ginger bug, and other naturally fermented sparkling drinks.
In this article, we will explore the world of flavouring using wild plants, as well as suggesting some ways to extract their delicate aromas.
Shop all ingredients for flavouring fermented drinks here!
The World of Wild Plants
Promoting local plants through fermentation means capturing a whole world of flavours!
In fact, the human being has always concocted beers, wines, meads, and natural fermented drinks from wild plants. In addition to providing complex and pleasant flavours, these plants were part of peoples’ natural pharmacopoeia.
Fermented drinks are very safe, thanks to their acidity or alcohol content. Pathogenic microorganisms cannot grow inside. That makes them the perfect receptacle for flavours and active plant compounds!
Fermented beverages allow us to rediscover boreal flavours and reclaim plants rich in history. A delicious return to nature!
Caution: If you want to pick your own wild plants, make sure you do so ethically and responsibly while being certain of their identification. Contact organizations that specialize in wild harvesting, or turn to local companies that harvest responsibly.
How to extract flavours from wild plants?
To flavour a drink, you must first extract the plants’ aromatic compounds. There are several extraction methods to do this. The three main ones are infusion, decoction, and maceration.
Pour nearly boiling water over the plants. Allow the heat to extract the aromatic compounds as required (usually around 15 to 60 minutes).
Once the flavours are well concentrated and the infusion warm, strain and add to your fermented drink.
To be used with: leaves, spices, dried herbs, etc.
Place herbs in a pot of boiling water. Adjust the heat to simmer. Depending on what you want to extract, the decoction can take from 15 minutes to several hours. Allow cooling before straining, then add to your fermented drink.
The constant heat allows all the aromatic compounds to be extracted from the tougher plants.
Decoctions can also turn berries into concentrated syrup, perfect for flavouring your drinks.
To be used with: barks, stems, roots, mushrooms, etc.
Maceration (cold extraction)
Add the herbs directly to the plain fermented beverage (kombucha, water kefir, etc.) just after the first fermentation, and let it infuse for 6 to 48 hours in a cool place. Shrubs also use this cold technique.
Maceration extracts more delicate aromas and certain essential oils that are destroyed by heat.
To be used with: shoots, flowers, leaves, berries, etc.
With all these extraction techniques, we always recommend adding the flavours in the second fermentation(F2). If you add the herbs at the beginning of the fermentation (first fermentation), the flavours will fade, and the herbs may interfere with the fermentation.
Local Wild Plants Suggestions
Go directly to the plant of your choice for our extraction suggestions:
Sea Buckthorn (fruit and leaf)
Sea buckthorn is a small naturalized shrub that grows very well in Canada. It produces a small, bright orange, and tangy fruit. We love it for its tropical flavour, reminiscent of both pineapple and apple.
Roughly crush the fruit and do a cold maceration in your drink. You can also make a shrub.
Sea buckthorn leaves can also be used to replace tea in kombucha recipes.
Somewhere between the blueberry, the blackcurrant, and the raspberry, the haskap berry is a small fruit of Canada to be discovered. Oblong in shape and dark in colour, it is rich in antioxidants.
Try cold maceration with rose petals and rosemary, or simply with a few chunks of apple. Also delicious as a shrub!
White cedar is not just for hedging! This plant has been used as an infusion for decades. Legends even say that it was a cedar decoction that saved Jacques Cartier from scurvy, thanks to its high vitamin C content!
Its flavour is resinous, but it also brings a floral and lemony note to drinks.
Use it in an infusion (be careful, as heat tends to bring out its bitterness) or in a cold maceration.
Using a mushroom in your fermented drinks? Why not! Chaga is a dark, ochre brown mushroom that grows on birch trees in northern forests. It comes in the shape of small nuggets.
Chaga has strong flavours, with a slight bitterness reminiscent of coffee. It is used for its health benefits and antioxidants.
Try making a decoction. The constant heat helps bring out the subtle flavours of the chaga.
Discover our recipe for kombucha with chaga and honey.
Raspberry bush (leaves and fruit)
Wild raspberry bushes abound in Canada! We love these small, sweet fruit, and they are a big hit in fermented drinks. Slightly crushed and added to cold maceration, raspberries can be combined with honey, roses, or sweet clover.
However, did you know that raspberry leaves can be used instead of tea in a kombucha recipe? Rich in tannins, they contain essential nutrients for a healthy scoby.
Slightly crush the raspberries and do a cold maceration or a shrub; use the leaves to replace tea in kombucha infusions.
Of the mint family, lemon balm is a perennial plant with a lemony, slightly astringent taste. It adds freshness to fermented drinks and can be combined with other aromatic herbs such as mint or sweet clover.
Make an infusion or a maceration to extract all the essential oils.
Also known as “northern vanilla”, sweet clover is a small white flower that grows wild in Canada. In the clover family, sweet clover has aromas reminiscent of honey, almond, and vanilla.
It’s delicious in a berry-flavoured water kefir, for a dessert twist!
Dried flowers can be bought and used in cold maceration.
Dune pepper, also known as alder pepper, is a local spice with a resinous, slightly pungent, and bitter taste. It is very complex and can be used to add new flavours to our drinks.
Use it with berries such as strawberries, blueberries, or haskap berries for a unique experience.
Chop coarsely and add to cold maceration.
Drinking your Christmas tree? Yes, but without the baubles! Balsam fir adds a northern, resinous flavour to drinks. See how to make our Christmas tree kombucha recipe.
Don’t stop at the branches! The buds and shoots of balsam fir have much more delicate, almost sweet, flavours! They give amazing results in a cold maceration.
Doing a cold maceration by dipping a branch into your fermented drink. Hot extractions may bring out bitterness.
Wild Sumac (Staghorn)
Wild sumac, or staghorn, is a native shrub. Its dark red berries are tart and wonderfully lemony.
They can simply be added in a cold maceration to kombucha or kefir to make a local, sparkling country lemonade!
Elderberry (Flower and Berries)
The Canadian elderberry is a shrub with white flowers and dark purple berries. The flowers have an exotic scent, halfway between rose and lychee.
The aromas of elderberry syrup are similar to blackberries and other dark berries. For a distinctive kombucha!
The elderberry is more bitter. Also, the berries should not be eaten raw. To use them, make them into a flavoured syrup by boiling them with sugar and water.
The flowers can be added in a cold maceration.
Wintergreen, also known as eastern teaberry, is a creeping plant found in the shady corners of Canadian forests. Its minty taste is both surprising and refreshing!
Infusion or cold maceration allows you to extract the essential oils of this delicious plant.
Cover photo credit: Mathieu Dupuis