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Labrador tea, is a name commonly applied to two species: Ledum palustre (Northern Labrador Tea, also known as Rhododendron tomentosum) and Ledum groenlandicum (Bog Labrador Tea). In Labrador itself, Labrador Tea is also frequently called Indian Tea. Both are plants in the Heath family (Ericaceae) with strongly aromatic leaves that can be used to make a very palatable herbal tea. Labrador tea has been a favorite beverage among Athabaskan and Eskimo people for many years. Labrador tea is a low shrub with evergreen leaves. The leaves are smooth on top with often wrinkled edges, and fuzzy white to red-brown underneath. The tiny white flowers grow in hemispherical clusters and are very fragrant and sticky and highly attractive to bees.
The Athabaskans use it as a beverage and also as medicine for weak blood, colds, tuberculosis, dizziness, stomach problems, heartburn, kidney problems and hangover. In large doses Labrador tea can cause drowsiness, stomach ache, and act as a laxative, and should be used in moderation. Labrador tea has been used to flavour meat soaked the meat in tea prepared from the leaves and branches. The meat may also be boiled directly in the water with the stems and leaves. This spice is said to be especially good for strong-tasting meat, such as brown bear meat that has a fishy taste. It should be noted, however, that Labrador tea does contain ledol, a poisonous substance that can cause cramps and paralysis.
Ledum palustre grows in peaty soils, shrubby areas, moss and lichen tundra. Ledum groenlandicum grows in bogs and wet shores, and sometimes on rocky alpine slopes. Both species are generally northern (north temperate to tundra) in distribution, with the range of L. groenlandicum somewhat farther south.
Both Ledum palustre and Ledum groenlandicum grow slowly, so pick individual leaves rather than whole branches, and harvest from different shrubs. In addition, Labrador tea grows in abundance in large patches so it should not be difficult to move from plant to plant to avoid over-harvesting. Labrador tea is an evergreen plant and will be available all year long.
Categories: Articles needing additional references from December 2007 | Herbs | Herbal tea