Walking on the Wild Side: Labrador Tea

One of the benefits of camping with a former Junior Forest Ranger supervisor is you tend to find things out.  Ranger P tells us that there is evidence in Columbus’ writings that the aboriginals fed Columbus and his crew Labrador tea, which is extremely high in vitamin C, and saved them all from scurvy.  The internet tells me that Labrador tea also provided a revolutionary alternative to regular tea after the Boston Tea Party. 

A member of the rhododendron family, “Lab tea” also contains ledol, a toxic substance which, in high quantities can cause paralysis and cramps.  Those who drink the tea on a regular basis (which is pretty much all of rural Canada, because this stuff grows freaking EVERYWHERE) say that’s a bunch of hooey.  The leaves and branches are also used to keep bugs out of clothing and rodents out of grain.

You can find Labrador tea pretty much all over the place.  Despite its name, it grows across the width of the country, and can be found in the deep woods, by rivers and waterfalls, and in peat bogs.

While the white umbrella-like flower heads are pretty, it’s the leaves that are important

Thick, waxy, and slightly resinous, the leaves are also furred on the underside with white or yellow or even reddish fuzz.

This is Ranger P desecrating a national wildlife reserve in order to make us tea.

It’s simple, really.  You put your kettle on to boil.

You put your leaves in the kettle.

You brew that for a few minutes.

You have your tea.  It’s very astringent and tastes a bit like a Christmas tree, but it’s palatable.  We might have brewed ours a bit overlong.

And it’s either really good for you, or it will kill you.  Either way, I think we’ve all learned something today.


Author: allythebell

A corgi. A small boy. A sense of adventure. Chaos ensues.

8 thoughts on “Walking on the Wild Side: Labrador Tea”

  1. Ali, the last line of your Labrador tea post was laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks for that!
    Shirley Sutherland 🙂


  2. My wife, with some Jr. forest Ranger training, pointed it out to me one day, along the “Bog walk” trail off Hwy 60 in Algonquin Park, said she had tried it in the past. Well, yes, with great guilt, I harvested some, and we steeped it back at the campsite to try.
    On it’s own, a bit sweetish, but very good! Now I’ve tried like crazy, and stumped many a staff member at Gardening centeres across Southern Ont. to see if it could be bought as a native species to see if I could grow it in a wet, sunny area of my garden, NO LUCK ANYWHERE! Found seeds in a catalog, but somebody has to carry the plant! BTW, ran into a nice, old Newfie Lady at one place who remembered harvesting the white berries seasonally back in Labrador. Claimed it was a prized item back then for making a jam ?, and if brewed to high strength gave you a buzz? I found a blended dried aboriginal tea version of this, but not the same as the fresh stuff.


    1. If you can’t get it from a nursery, I would just pluck it from some roadside somewhere. It grows pretty much all the way across the country. I’m sure the Government of Canada wouldn’t object to you just taking one teensy plant.


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