bog tea, Greenland moss, Greenland tea, Hudson Bay tea, Labrador tea, Ledum groenlandicum, marsh tea, muskeg tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum, Rhododendron tomentosum, storytelling tea, swamp tea, Trapper’s tea.
A northern campfire is not complete without a piping-hot cup of Labrador tea. It not only warms you up but provides you with a burst of vitamin C. ~Beverly Gray
Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum, Rhododendron tomentosum; used to be known as Ledum groenlandicum) is also known as bog tea, Greenland tea, Greenland moss, Hudson Bay tea, marsh tea, muskeg tea, swamp tea, storytelling tea and Trapper’s tea.
I have fond memories of picking and drinking Labrador tea up near Cormorant, Manitoba (where I am from) with my favorite Auntie L, who was a trapper. On our way to her bush camp by snowmobile in winter, we would stop at a halfway point, make a small fire and brew up a pot of Labrador tea, freshly picked on the trail.
Labrador tea is described as a straggly and aromatic evergreen shrub that grows in the peaty soils of bogs, muskegs, swamps, and damp conifer forests. This shrub has thick leathery leaves that grow from 2-5 cm long. The leaf edges curl under and their wooly undersides are either white (when young) or rusty brown (when mature). The undersides are an important identification feature:
Do not confuse this plant with Rhododendron tomentosum subsp. subarcticum (Northern Labrador tea), Kalmia microphylla (Bog Laurel) or Andromeda polifolia (Bog Rosemary), as all three contain toxic alkaloids known to be poisonous to livestock. All three lack the fuzz on the underside of mature leaves and the flowers of Kalmia and Andromeda are pink.
White flowers form on the shrub in clusters from May to July. Both the leaves and flowers can be used. The leaves are available for harvest all year round.
The tea has no caffeine and a mild narcotic effect. I like Beverly Gray‘s description of the tea as having an “interesting forest-like flavor, a little bitter, a little astringent, a little spicy, a little camphor-like”.
Infuse as a tea. Use as a spice (crushed or ground) and add to meat dishes and salad dressings. Use in soups as a substitute for bay leaves.
Crush (to release the essential oils) ¼ cup dried or fresh Labrador tea. Add 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer for 5-7 minutes or longer for a stronger brew. You can also steep the dried flowers for a fragrant and delicate tea.
- treating coughs and colds (high vitamin C)
- as a relaxant before sleep
- clearing the sinuses (inhale the steam)
- According to Alberta Plant Watch: used to treat diarrhea, pneumonia, eye infections, difficulty urinating, tension and kidney ailments, and bad breath
- liver regenerator and cleaser
- analgesic properties, which help reduce pain when used as a poultice or infused in oil or water, i.e. added to a warm bath to treat arthritis
- relief of migraines
- anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties
- twigs found to be active against colon carcinoma and lung carcinoma cells
- has been used by Indigenous peoples for Type 2 diabetes
- diaphoretic effect (helps the skin eliminate toxins and encourage perspiration, therefore helpful to treat a fever)
In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1992, Dr. Allison McCutcheon and colleagues found the branches of Labrador tea act as an antibiotic against E. coli and Bacillus subtilis. Previous studies demonstrated the floweringheads in an extract were effective against both bacteria as well as the yeast Candida albicans. Other researchers also found extracts from the leaves active against Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. ~Beverly Gray
- Hang leaves in closets to repel moths, insects and rodents
- A brown dye can be made with the leaves
- According the Alberta Plant Watch, “Labrador tea has the ability to concentrate zinc and copper, and thus has value in geo-botanical studies”
Caution: Only drink the tea occasionally or in moderation, especially if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure. In larger doses, Labrador tea can be considered cathartic and cause diarrhea.
Gray, B. (2011). The boreal herbal: wild food and medicine plants of the north; a guide to harvesting, preserving, and preparing. Aroma Borealis Press: Whitehorse, Yukon.
Stewart, H. (1981). Drink in the wild. Douglas & McIntyre: Vancouver, BC.
Alberta Plant Watch (http://plantwatch.fanweb.ca/plant-information/labrador-tea)