Scientific Name(s): Groenlandicum Nutt. Ericaceae., Ledum groenlandicum Oeder Ericaceae., Ledum latifolium Jacq., Ledum palustre L. ssp.
Common Name(s): Haida tea, Hudson's Bay tea, Indian tea, James tea, Labrador tea, Marsh tea, Muskeg tea, Swamp tea
L. groenlandicum is a short (50 to 200 cm), aromatic, evergreen shrub, primarily found in patches in Alaska, Greenland, and Canada, where it thrives in wet, peaty soils. It has bright green, 2.5 to 7.6 cm alternate oblong leaves with a leathery adaxial surface. The leaves are rolled and have a bluntly pointed tip. Younger leaves point upwards with a white, pubescent abaxial surface, while older reddish leaves point downwards and have a rust colored abaxial side. The small (12 mm), white, bell-shaped, scented flowers grow from slender stalks in dense terminal clusters. The fruit is a many-seeded brown woody capsule.Turner 1997, Stuart 1987, Hutchens 1991 The species Ledum glanduosum Nutt. Ericaceae is not found on the coasts or mid-elevations compared with L. groenlandicum, which is more widespread.
"Labrador tea" is named after the swamps of Greenland and Labrador, where it grows in profusion. The name is probably derived from the Hudson Bay traders who sold the leaves for tea. Prior to that, the Haida people used it as a medicine.Turner 2005
During the American Revolution, it was one of several herbs used as a pleasant-tasting substitute for commercial tea. In Germany, leaves were added to beer to make it more intoxicating.
The Haida people picked the leaves before the shrubs would flower or in late summer, dry them, and boil the leaves for tea.Turner 2005
Although the plant is found as far south as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it is considered to be rare and could become an endangered species. Labrador tea has been used in folk medicine for coughs, chest and kidney ailments, headache, rheumatism, diarrhea, sore throat, and malignancies.Stuart 1987, Hutchens 1991, Duke 1985
Reported constituents of L. latifolium include tannic acid, arbutin, resin, and mineral salts.Stuart 1987 Leaves contain 0.3% to 2.5% volatile oil, including the sesquiterpenes ledol and palustrol (ledum camphor), with valeric and other volatile acids, ericolin, and ericinol.Duke 1985
Uses and Pharmacology
The leaves of L. groenlandicum have been used as an astringent. They were once used to treat dysentery and diarrhea.Stuart 1987 They are also said to be very useful in coughs and colds, as well as bronchial and pulmonary infections. The tea is prepared by adding 1 teaspoonful of dried leaves to 1 cup of boiling water.
A stronger decoction has been recommended externally for itching and redness from skin ailments, such as poison ivy. The leaves as a tea have also been used as a heart medicine, and for indigestion, diarrhea, and ease of childbirth.Turner 1997, Hutchens 1991 Homeopathy has used Labrador tea for various ailments, such as insect bites and stings, acne, prickly heat, varicella, and wounds. Homeopathic use also includes asthma, hand and foot pain, gout, rheumatism, ear inflammation, tinnitus, and tuberculosis.Hutchens 1991 Other research discusses use of the leaves in Korea to treat female disorders.Belleau 1993 It is rarely used today for its historical uses.Stuart 1987
There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage recommendations for Labrador tea. However, concentrations should not be too high.
Recorded recommendations are 1 teaspoonful of dried leaves for 1 cup of boiling water.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Research reveals no information regarding adverse reactions of Ledum.
Labrador tea has narcotic properties. Evidence suggests that excessive use of the tea may cause delirium or poisoning.Stuart 1987 Toxic terpenes of the essential oils cause symptoms of intoxication, such as slow pulse, lowering of blood pressure, lack of coordination, convulsions, paralysis, and death.Belleau 1993 It is apparently safe in a weak tea solution, but should not be made too strong.Turner 1997, Turner 1991
There are 2 other plants that are similar to Ledum and can be toxic due to higher concentrations of similar compounds: Kalmia polifolia and Andromeda polifolia. These are distinguished by their glabrous leaves and pink flowers.Turner 1997
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