Herbal tea has exploded in popularity in recent years for a handful of reasons. Also known as tisanes or herbal infusions, they are brewed by steeping various edible plant parts in hot water. Unlike traditional teas that are made from the naturally caffeinated leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, herbal teas are made from herbs, spices, fruit, bark, flowers, and roots.
Indigenous tribes have used plants to make herbal teas in North America for centuries. Regarded highly for both their potential healing properties and as a food source, herbal teas were thought to fight against common colds and other ailments. One herbal infusion that was relied upon by tribes such as the Algonquin, Potawatomi, and Ojibwa is Labrador tea. Thought to help relieve cold symptoms, this tisane is still used today by those that practice traditional medicine.
Labrador tea, also referred to as Bog Labrador tea, is made by steeping the leaves of the Rhododendron groenlandicum, Rhododendron tomentosum, and Rhododendron neoglandulosum. These three plant species, all belonging to the Ericaceae family, thrive in bogs and other wetlands in the northern regions of North America. Considered to be an evergreen, this plant grows slowly and reaches a mature height of three feet.
The shiny green leaves of this plant are oblong and have undersides that are covered with little hairs. New leaves will have white hairs on the underside, while mature leaves will have orange hairs. When fully grown, the leaves can be anywhere from 1 inch to 2 ¼ inches in length.
Harvesting and Drying
Easily identified by the clusters of tiny white flowers that bloom in June, this plant grows slowly and should not be overharvested. To protect this wild species, only a few leaves should be plucked from each plant to ensure the plant will survive and continue to grow. Harvesting can take place from early spring until the start of fall.
Once collected, the leaves should be placed in small bundles and secured with string or rubber bands. Hang them in a cool place near a fan. This will help remove any moisture and allow the leaves to dry out. When the leaves are brittle and crisp, they can be stored in an airtight container in a warm space to keep the moisture at bay.
Making a fresh hot cup of Labrador tea is easy and requires only a few items. For this recipe, you will need a pot or kettle to boil some water, a strainer to catch the used leaves, and a cup to drink out of. It is recommended that 1 oz of dried leaves (or one tea bag) be used for every 8 oz of boiling water.
- Bring some water to a boil. For the tastiest results, it’s recommended to use spring water.
- While the water temperature is rising, place the tea leaves into the cup.
- Once the water starts to boil, pour it into the cup. Allow the leaves to steep for 5 minutes.
- Strain out the tea leaves after the proper amount of time has passed. You can simply enjoy the tisane as is or use sweeteners or other additives to achieve a more complex flavor.
Appearance, Aroma, & Flavor
Labrador tea is a beautiful pale gold color and offers a pleasant aromatic experience. The smell, which has been described as a combination of dry cedar and fresh pine, also offers subtle notes of spice. When freshly brewed, the tisane has a pine, citrus, and floral flavor. Often described as slightly sweet, the tea drinker is left with a pleasing aftertaste.
If you are looking to jazz up your Labrador tea, there are a few different ingredients you can add. Whether you are enjoying this tea hot or chilled over ice, some of the more popular options include:
Labrador tea leaves can also be used to add flavor to other dishes. For example, the leaves can be put in soups or sprinkled as a seasoning for meats. These leaves have also been used to make flavored simple syrups for cocktails and desserts.
Nutritional Values & Caffeine
As with most other herbal teas, Labrador tea has little nutritional value. In one serving, there are fewer than 5 calories, zero fats, carbs, and proteins. There are also zero milligrams of caffeine, making it an excellent choice for people with caffeine sensitivities. This beverage is considered to have moderate levels of vitamin C.
Potential Benefits & Side Effects
Although there have not been enough studies to support these claims, Labrador tea is often used to help with a wide variety of health issues. For people who practice traditional medicine, this tisane is believed to remedy:
- Sore throats
- Chest congestion and coughs
- Joint and muscle pain
- Kidney Problems
- Compromised immune systems
When consumed in small amounts, this tea is generally regarded as safe for most people. If large quantities are ingested, it is believed that a few problems could arise. Some of these potential side effects include:
- Inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining
This tisane has been brewed and enjoyed for centuries. What started as a remedy used by indigenous people living in the northern regions of North America eventually spread due to European colonization. Labrador tea is still made today mostly in connection with its potential health benefits and as remedies for common ailments.
Being simple to brew, caffeine-free, and having little nutritional value, this herbal tea is a good beverage choice for those watching their caffeine or sugar intake. It also makes for a perfect nighttime drink before bed. If you are curious about this golden-colored herbal tea, whether for its pine and floral flavor, beautiful appearance, strong woodsy aroma, or potential benefits, Labrador tea is definitely something you should investigate more.