Labrador tea is an evergreen in many forms. Its life force carries on through the dormant nature of Winter while so many other plant beings rest. Its twisted form and the swampy, slimey places it calls home shine in a way that no other plant has for me.
This plant has such stunningly unique gifts that you’re almost left convinced that there’s many lives and spirits within Labrador Tea. It’s qualities distribute throughout all parts of us; our respiratory system, our nervous system, our digestive system, our skin, and so much more. From extremely harsh diseases to mild ones, it is our ally. From the flowers of summer to the insides of winter, it can be found giving.
The leaves smell so good. If the Northern forest had a tropical citrusy fruit, this would be it, alongside of Sumac. It really is a wonder it comes from the swamp. Plants are so special that they can grow out of anaerobic murky conditions and still come out with flowers and a forest lemon essence when they’re crushed.
I had never seen Labrador Tea in real life before. And when I saw the beautiful plants growing, I knew what they were. There was no question. It’s funny. I’d perhaps seen Labrador Tea once or twice in pictures while I studied horticulture in school and all of a sudden there it is in the boggy forest and there I was knowing exactly that I had found a very important plant. In not only my own life, but in all of our lives. I felt what a vital part of the wetlands it is.
Here’s just a few examples of how Labrador Tea interacts with the lives around it:
Hummingbirds have also been known to use the fluff on the underside of the Labrador tea leaves to create the padding in their nests. This fluff deters mites, and other insects that can harm the baby birds. In the same way it deters mites in Hummingbirds, it can with insects that feed on humans such as lice. Palm Warblers are known to do the same with their nests and their flowers are full of nectar that Butterflies and Moths love.
I remember reading that the informal name for this plant in Inuit is “Kayaksi.” Which means little kayak leaf. Which is the sweetest and truest name.
Aside from its shape resembling a kayak, I also feel this name exemplifies the spirit of Labrador tea. The plant itself grows in patches of water and bogs and it thrives. Its healing nature acts as a vessel for us to move across the uncharted waters of illness with safety and with a gentle power that seems to float effortlessly.
It is also one of the first plants to recolonize after fire. Unlike its typically slow growing nature, after a forest fire it actually grows rather quickly. And a lot of the time it completely shields itself from the danger of forest fires because its roots form in areas that are so saturated in water. It teaches us to be a leader in revival and to take to your roots when you need to survive whatever it is that burns you. This courageous life lives in the medicine we take into our bodies. When I drink this tea made from the leaves I feel these things as a part of me. It’s teachings are evergreen, too.
It is important to always ask for the gifts of plants. And thank them with your whole being. Don’t ever take more than you need. As the plant is very slow growing, we have to be very mindful about how to harvest Labrador tea. Commercial harvesters have been known to pick off the top new shoots but over time this can actually kill the plant.
I only harvest a 1-3 lower leaves of each plant because they are likely to fall off as the plant grows upwards. Don’t come back to the same spots you forage from, in order for the plant to continue to grow without the pressures of over-harvesting.
You will notice that there are seeds that grow on some of the plants. They seem to be more prevalent the closer they are to water. In the Fall, gather the seeds and spread them into the peaty mossy soil they love most. Gently pat down into soil to create contact, but ensure there is light still able to peak in, as they need this in order to germinate. Which is the most beautiful thing. Observe and see how they are doing in the spring. Planting seeds is truly the most powerful thing you can do for your relationship with the plants around you.
- Colds, Flus, and Respiratory Issues
Provides a burst of vitamin C. The leaves are commonly used for coughs, and colds. Its diaphoretic effects aid the skin in the elimination of toxins and promote perspiration which is especially helpful during a fever. Inhale the steam that rises from the tea with a towel over your head to help clear sinuses.
- Promotes Sleep
Has a mild narcotic effect that can enable people to sleep better, and feel super relaxed. It can help to quiet the nerves and nourish the adrenal glands.
- Reduces Pain
Can reduce pain when applied either externally as a poultice, infused in oil, or taken internally as a tea.
- Tones digestion
It can act as an intestinal regulator, it’s mildly laxative (shouldn’t be taken in large doses) and yet soothes diarrhea.
- Healthy Skin
Can be used topically to treat a wide range of skin problems including burns, ulcers, itchy chapped skin, stings, scabies, and dandruff. I love infusing oil in it and making salves.
- Head Lice
If a strong enough batch of tea is made, head lice can be killed.
Labrador tea twigs has been reported to be effective in eradicating lung carcinoma and colon cancer, but in a slower way than conventional chemotherapy. What is important to note is that Labrador tea can be administered at higher doses and it can be taken more frequently. People who are going through chemo for these particular types of cancer can additionally drink Labrador tea at the same time to aid in healing.
There are just so many wonderful medicinal qualities of Labrador Tea. Here’s a recipe I make in the fall that helps to clear up those respiratory issues that often come along with cold and flu season.
Labrador Tea Cough Syrup
This cough syrup really facilitates Labrador teas ability to help with respiratory issues and fevers. I mixed in lemon balm, and white pine as its allies. White pine is also very helpful with respiratory issues, and lemon balm is antiviral in case of an oncoming flu. I used honey in this recipe as it can also be very helpful for soothing a sore throat. All of these plants are locally foraged, garden grown, or locally produced ingredients, which just affirms that you can make these medicines with things that are so close to you, even in the great North!
Labrador Tea leaves
Lemon Balm leaves
White Pine needles
(you will need 1 cup of fresh herbs per 2 cups of water)
2 cups of Water
1 cup of Honey
- Boil water in a pot. Add plant material and turn off heat.
- Cover with a lid and let it sit for 1 hour at least. Can leave overnight.
- Strain out plant material using cheese cloth.
- Warm the liquid on low heat.
- Add 1 cup of honey. Stir well, and ensure temperature is on low. If heated too high, this can kill some of the naturally occurring beneficial enzymes in the honey. Keep stirring until honey dissolves. This should happen relatively quickly.
- Remove syrup from heat.
- Bottle and label!
- If you want to make your syrup last longer than a couple of months, then you can add up to 1/4 cup of brandy, or a herbal tincture that could assist in the effectiveness of your syrup. For example an Echinacea tincture that has antiviral properties to help the immune system fight off a flu.
Labrador Tea Spice Rub
I find it very interesting where plants grow and who they grow next to in the wild. Labrador tea grows next to White Spruce, and Sweet Gale where I am…who are also so wonderful and edible! I decided to let these guys hang out together a little longer and make a wild salt with them. Beautiful tastes of the forest go well with all kinds of foods. I took spruce tips I had dried and saved from the spring and ground them up in a mortar and pestle with the Labrador tea and Sweet Gale. The salt draws the moisture out and preserves the plant material from going bad.
1 part Labrador tea leaves
1 part Spruce tips
1 part Sweet Gale
3 parts Sea Salt
1) Chop plant material into small pieces
2) Add to mortar and pestle with your sea salt and grind them together well.
3) Spread out on a baking sheet and allow to dry for a few days.
4) Enclose in a jar, label, and enjoy!
Caution; do not use when pregnant or with high blood pressure! Use in moderation. I would not suggest drinking or eating a boat load of Labrador tea. Maybe just a kayak load. No not really. Never more than 3 cups a day, people have reported Labrador tea to be quite cathartic when taken too much. Never forage plants from the wild unless you are 110% sure you have a correct identification. This blog has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Gray, B. & Canadian Circumpolar Institute. (2011). The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North. Whitehorse, YT: Aroma Borealis Press
- Peterson, L. (1977). Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants. Boston, New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Mackinnon, Kershaw, Arnason, Owen, Karst, Hamersley, Chambers. (2014). Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada New Edition. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine