August 7, 2013

bog Labrador tea, the du Labrador, Nordic bay leaves....

 An erect, aromatic shrub that grows to one meter with twigs densely covered with long, soft hairs (villous). The narrow, leathery leaves are 2-5 cm long, alternateand evergreen. The leaves are dark green above with edges that curl under along the margins, and there is a dense mat of orange-brown hairs on the underside. Numerous white flowers in tight clusters bloom from May to July. Each flower has a small five-toothed sepal tube with five separate petals, and 5-7 stamens.The fruit is a small,fuzzy capsule tipped with a persistent style (Marles et al. 2000; Pettinger and Costanzo 2002; Pojar and MacKinnon 1994). Sexy! An extremely beautiful plant, to the eye and the touch. With the added evergreen meaning that this tiny plant's leaves can be picked in the minus 40 degrees Celsius of deep January.

Picking Labrador tea or the du Labrador in Abitibi recently added another dimension for me; the culinary one. As opposed to its dried leaves the fresh ones emit the combination of bay leaf, marjoram, thyme, mint, pepper with a hint of pine needles. I was not thinking as Hudson Bay Company's writer Edward Umfrewille (1954) wrote in 1790 about the Indians and Europeans of Canada and how they used the tea medicinally: “Its virtues are many; it is an aromatic very serviceable in rheumatic cases, strengthens the stomach, relieves the head and  also promotes perspiration. Outwardly, it is applied to gangrenes,contusions, and excoriations; in the latter case the powder is made use of.”, but rather chowders, chocolate, ice cream, carrots and lamb shank.

Hudson bay tea, James tea, Indian tea, swamp tea, marsh tea and Labrador tea...a simple search does not give a first nation's term and the Latin mentions Groenlandicum and not Labrador . It is said that the Ojibwa gathered the leaves from spring to autumn for a beverage tea, enacting an ancient custom, the Hoh, Quinault, Quileute, Klallam,and Makah still gather and steep the leaves and drink the resulting tea as a refreshing beverage. Others write that that is more a 'white man's version' where the drink was originally medicinal, not tea time. Whatever the case may be, it grows in the Northern hemisphere very abundantly as with the psycho mosquitoes when picking them! Eaten raw it is delicious and is an excellent replacement for pepper, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, mint, and pungent spices. A complex tasty aromatic wild Nordic herb which I think has been marginalized by its noun tea...think of it sometimes as a great replacement for bay leaves in a rich chanterelle chowder!