Pictures by Carolyn BrownSnow? No!! It’s Labrador Tea in bloom in the muskeg. Also known as Trapper’s or Indian Tea, the evergreen shrub is prolific and available year round. You can chew the leaves or boil them to make tea – but you must do some research on side effects before you try it! The leaves are fuzzy and orange underneath.
The flowers grow in globs, resembling snow, but they smell like summer.
Labrador Tea is also sometimes called Hudson’s Bay Tea, because it was exported to England for a time in the 1800s by the HBC. Company employees used it themselves in the early years of the Red River settlement.
Decades earlier, another famous company, the East India Company, was involved in convincing the British government to tax tea imported to New England. Americans objected, first in little ways: they took to drinking Labrador Tea, which grew everywhere in the New World. Later, of course, their protests were more overt: patriotic and spirited colonists pitched the precious shipment of real tea from London off the incoming ships in The Boston Tea Party.
The Innu, migratory people of Labrador, used to make caribou hide dolls and stuff them with Labrador Tea. Space was at a premium and tea was essential. By making the dolls, children could carry a small share of the load, and they would be sure to look after their little dolls with utmost care. When the tea was needed, the leaves were removed from the doll, which was re-stuffed with grass or other types of leaves.
It is possible to find recipes for making insect repellent from Labrador Tea leaves, including this one from Parks Canada.
Labrador Tea is also called bog tea, tundra tea, woolly tea, settlers tea… and a couple of dozen other names in many languages.
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