Family: Ericaceae, the Heath Family
Description: Native evergreen shrub up to 1 m tall. Leaves 2-5cm long, tapering to base and tip, alternately arranged, with rusty-wooly fuzz on underside—rusty wool absent in younger leaves. White flowers with five separate petals (unlike the bell-shaped flowers of other heaths) and long stamens.
Habitat: Bogs, sphagnum mats
Plant Parts Used: Leaves
Medicine: Headaches, respiratory problems, diarrhea, bladder, kidneys. Diuretic.
I distinctly remember my first taste of Labrador tea. I had heard that this plant was good for treating lung problems, something that stuck in my mind due to my history of childhood asthma. When I recognized the plant on a hike one day, I decided to nibble on a single leaf even though I felt completely healthy. I felt the effects immediately: my lungs felt much clearer and I was able to breathe much deeper than I had moments before. Ray told me that the tea of the leaves was drunk casually, but this tea is also good for treating headaches, bronchitis, diarrhea, and weak bladder systems. Sue also told me this tea supports the bladder and kidney and is a diuretic, which the Gitskan knew and intentionally used as a diuretic beverage. The Algonquin simply considered a tea of this plant a good tonic.
The Abnaki used Labrador tea for treating nasal inflammation and as a cold remedy, which the Mi’kmaq did as well. The Mi’kmaq also used Labrador tea as a diuretic, kidney aid, and for asthma. The Cree even used this plant for treating pneumonia and whooping cough, while the Haisla and Hanaksiala used it for treating tuberculosis.
Caution: According to Turner and Von Aderkas, all members of the Rhododendron genus contain rhodotoxin, a toxin which can even deem the plant’s honey toxic. However, this particular species does not contain high concentrations of rhodotoxin and is safe in moderation.
Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.
- Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
- Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
- Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Medicinal Plants: an Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. Print.
- Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
- Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.
- Turner, Nancy J., and Patrick Von Aderkas. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland: Timber, 2009. Print.