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.