What do you do when you’ve run out of grape jelly but you still have to pack your son’s pb&j the next morning? Take the wintergreen leaves that you had planned on making tea out of and turn it into jelly instead! Wintergreen is a low lying, creeping perennial whose leaves stay green through the winter and may be harvested year round. There are a few look-a-likes, such as partridge berry (Mitchella repens) or periwinkle (Vinca minor), but none of them have the distinctive wintergreen scent when you crush a leaf.
I say that the leaves of wintergreen may be harvested year round, but there may be some impediments during the winter months. To collect enough leaves yesterday, I had to dig through almost two feet of snow, with two distinct layers of crusty ice. Luckily I had the patch well scouted and it didn’t take more than a few minutes to discover exactly where the waxy green leaves were hiding. It is a fairly large patch, so I was able to take about 50 leaves without any fear of over harvest.
To make a wintergreen tea, normally you would pack the leaves into a jar, cover with water, and allow it to sit in a warm place for 3 days so that it may begin to ferment. This fermentation draws out a more potent wintergreen flavor, however, time was of the essence tonight. I decided to speed things up a bit and possibly forgo maximum potency. The leaves were dropped into 4 cups of water in a sauce pot, brought to a boil and then reduced to a slow simmer for 15 minutes while covered. The kitchen, which had smelled strongly of pork fat (pork chops were on the menu for dinner), was filled with a cloud of minty wintergreen goodness. I suspect that some of those essential oils were released and lost into the air during the simmering process. After the 15 minutes of simmering, I removed the pot from the heat and allowed it to sit and steep for an additional 30 minutes before straining out the leaves.
At this point, the tea had a very dark, reddish color and smelled strongly of wintergreen. The flavor was not nearly as strong as the aroma but it had enough to leave the mouth with a nice clean feeling. Good enough! Time to turn the tea into jelly. I added 2 cups of honey and 2 cups of turbinado sugar to the tea and dissolved over low heat. When I added the pectin, something interesting happened to the color. It changed from the darker rosé color to a golden honey yellow. Once poured out into jars and allowed to set, the end product was quite a nice little jelly. The honey provided a nice base layer for the mintyness of the wintergreen to rest on. When I have a little more time to play with, i will have to try making a batch with the fermented tea. It would also be fun to try out a batch of snow cream with some wintergreen syrup!