Skip internationally produced teas for the soothing, curative properties of these homegrown beverages.
We enjoy a variety of teas brewed from local herbs and trees as a refreshment as well as for their medicinal properties. In Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples, Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner document how deeply our ancestors understood the curative properties of these plants. North American Native medicines share much with traditional Eastern medicines: all are grounded in a rich understanding of the natural world. When I began my journey, I could see that tribes on opposite ends of North America used the same plants for the same purposes, and then I realized my path and how much there is still to learn. — Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen
Sometimes called swamp tea, the Labrador plant, once steeped, makes a tea that is surprisingly close to English breakfast tea. The plants grow in thick, knee- to waist-high banks in the wet, spongy, acidic soil of lowland bogs across North America. The evergreen foliage resembles that of a rhododendron — with leathery dark green to rusting to magenta leaves that roll under at the edges. Yellow fur covering the underside of the leaves gives off a powerful lemony aroma when crushed, making the plant easy to identify. The plant’s fragrance and showy clusters of small white blossoms on the tips manifest from May through August.
Cedar is a sacred tree and, like sweetgrass and tobacco, is part of many ceremonies. It’s used to purify homes, in sweat-lodge ceremonies, and as a medicine. The tea of simmered branches is used to treat fevers and rheumatic complaints, chest colds, and flu. This brew is delicious warm or cold and is simple to make. Just simmer 2 cups of fresh cedar in 4 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes until the water becomes a golden color. Strain off the cedar and sweeten with maple syrup, to taste.
Recipes adapted and edited with permission from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). © 2017 Ghost Dancer LLC.