Edible Wild Plants: Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum)

Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum)Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum) plant grows to be 4 to 5 feet tall. It will grow up straight in the southern latitudes of the tundra, but in the colder northern latitudes it will creep over the ground forming a carpet.

I has woolly branches with narrow 1 to 2 inch leaves which are smooth on the upper side, with rusty hairs underneath.

They droop slightly and edges are rolled under, and are leathery green in color. At the ends of the branches are tiny clusters of white flowers with protruding stamen, which bloom in June and July.

The part used from this plant are the leaves which were brewed for tea by Native Americans. The tea is very rich in vitamin C. They were also scattered among clothes to keep moths away. Branches kept with grain are said to keep mice away.

Labrador Tea on Wood

They are also used for medical purposes. Externally it was used for all kinds of skin problems. Tea was used for stomach and nerve ailments. A syrup was made from the tea to be used for coughs

Wild Edible Labrador TeaThey usually grow in wet meadows, bogs, and forest areas mostly in the lower latitudes of the tundra biome. Bees are attracted to the flowers, but animals don’t eat them because they are said to be slightly poisonous.

Through its suggestive name as well as the writings of northern travelers, Labrador Tea has gained a considerable reputation as a tea-substitute. A close relative to Labrador Tea or Bog-Tea is Ledum Palustre.

The early explorer of western Canada, Dr. John Palliser, writing in his journal of 1866, thus noted it: “We encamped after passing the Long Muskeg, where we got a supply of the muskeg tea (ledum palustre), which makes a capital beverage in absence of a better.”

The shrub has a strongly aromatic fragrance due to an oil, and Linnaeus found that in Lapland, two centuries ago, “Ledum (palustre) is laid among corn in the bars, to drive away mice.”

If the bristly spikes of Setaria Verticillata (future edible wild posting) will keep away rats and hte leaves of Ledum will drive away mice, the housewife should be pretty well set, especially if there is good basis for the statement made by Barton and Castle concerning the common Water-Pepper. Polygonum Hydropiper: “It is not eaten by any animal. In some parts of Germany this herb is kept in bedrooms for purpose of dispersing fleas, as these insects, it is said, will not come where it is.”

Edible Parts

  • Leaves

Uses

Labrador Tea Leaves Waiting To Be Made Into Tea
A fragrant and soothing tea is made from the leaves.

The spicy leaves make a very palatable and refreshing tea. The North American Indians would often flavor this tea with the roots of liquorice fern, Polypodium glycyrrhiza.

When lemon is added they can be used as iced tea. The leaves were once added to beer in order to make it heady.

Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. It would be better to brew the tea in cold water by leaving it in a sunny place, or to make sure that it is brewed for a short time only in an open container.

The leaves are used as a flavoring, they are a bayleaf substitute

Medicinal Uses

Labrador tea was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints.

In modern herbalism it is occasionally used externally to treat a range of skin problems. The leaves are analgesic, blood purifier, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and tonic. A tea is taken internally in the treatment of headaches, asthma, colds, stomach aches, kidney ailments etc.

Externally, it is used as a wash for burns, ulcers, itches, chapped skin, stings, dandruff etc. An ointment made from the powdered leaves or roots has been used to treat ulcers, cracked nipples, burns and scalds.

The plant is apparently a mild narcotic, it was taken by Indian women three times daily shortly before giving birth

Labrador Tea Field

Other Uses

The leaves are hung up in the clothes cupboard in order to repel insects.

The branches are also placed among grain in order to keep mice awa. A strong decoction of the leaves, or a tincture, is used to kill lice, mosquitoes, fleas and other insects. The leaves contain tannin. A brown dye is obtained from the plant.

Where Does Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum) Grow?

Where Does Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum) Grow?

How To Identify Labrador Tea (Ledum Groenlandicum)

Labrador Tea Leaves
Leaf

Alternate (often clustered appearing whorled), simple, evergreen, lanceolate to narrowly oblong, 1/2 to 2 inches long, entire, distinctly rolled edges, dark green above, densely woolly below which is at first white but matures to a rusty brown color, fragrant when crushed.

Labrador Tea Flower
Flower

Five petals, white, 1/3 inch across, in small terminal clusters, appearing in late spring.

Labrador Tea Fruit
Fruit

Small, elongated, pointed, 5-parted, dry capsule, 1/3 inch long, at first green but maturing to brown by the end of summer, cluster typically drooping.

Labrador Tea Twig
Twig

Moderate, reddish brown and densely wooly, buds scaly.

Labrador Tea Bark
Bark

Smooth, gray to reddish brown.

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