Scientific Name(S): Several Ledum species have been used medicinally including L. groenlandicum, L. latifolium, Jacq., and L. palustre, L. Family: Ericaceae.
Common Name(S): Labrador tea, James tea, Marsh tea, Wild rosemary and Continental tea
Labrador Tea ( Ledum groenlandicum and Ledum palustre ), also called Hudson's Bay or Indian tea, shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae).
Botany: L. groenlandicum is a short (1-6 ft. high), aromatic, evergreen shrub common to North America, primarily found in Greenland and Canada, where it thrives in wet, peaty soils. It has bright-green, 1-3" alternate leaves with a leathery dorsal surface, and a rust colored, hair-like underside. The leaves curl inward and have a bluntly pointed tip. The small (12 mm), white, bell-shaped, scented flowers grow from slender stalks in terminal clusters. The fruit is a many seeded capsule.
History: Labrador Tea (L. latifolium, Jacq.) is named after the swamps of Greenland and Labrador, where it grows in profusion. During the American Revolution, it was one of the several herbs used as a pleasant-tasting substitute for commercial tea. Germans once added the leaves to their beer to make it more intoxicating. Although Labrador tea is found as far south as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it is listed as rare and could become an endangered species. Medical literature gives full credit to Labrador tea use in folk medicine, though it has been rarely studied clinically. It has been used for coughs, chest ailments, headache, kidney, rheumatisim, diarrhea, sore throat and malignancies.
Uses of Labrador Tea
Labrador tea has been used historically and folklorically for a variety of ailments ranging from skin complaints to malignancies. It can be made safely into a weak tea, but care must be taken not to make concentrations too high. A tea for coughs, colds, bronchial infections and pulmonary infections can be made by adding one teaspoonful of dried leaves to one cup of boiling water.
Side Effects of Labrador Tea
Labrador tea has narcotic properties. If taken in concentrations that are too high, it can cause symptoms of intoxication that can lead to paralysis and death. If Labrador tea is to be used, be sure to take only in small doses with weak concentrations.
Toxicology: Labrador tea has narcotic properties. Evidence suggests that excessive use of the tea may cause delirium or poisoning. Labrador tea contains andromedotoxin, more recently designated as grayanotoxin. This toxic diterpene causes symptoms of intoxication, such as slow pulse, lowering of blood pressure, lack of coordination, convulsions, paralysis and death. It is apparently safe in a weak tea solution, but should not be made too strong.
Summary: Labrador tea is an aromatic evergreen, native to Greenland and Canada. It has been used in folk medicine for upper respiratory ailments, and by homeopaths for skin infections and asthma. It contains grayanotoxin which causes symptoms of intoxication and can lead to paralysis and death in high concentrations. Further clinical investigation is welcome in order to assess more of the potentially useful properties of Labrador tea.
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