What Is Labrador Tea? A guide to Understanding This Amazing Herbal Tea

Have you ever wondered, “What is labrador tea?” Labrador tea is an herbal tea made from a plant of the Rhododendron family. This perennial shrub’s leaves can be made into a robust, healing brew.

Rhododendron groenlandicum plant with flowers - What is Labrador tea
Labrador tea is drunk to treat coughs and chest colds

Plants like those that produce Labrador tea decorate not only the landscape but also hold medicinal properties. Often, this tea is drunk to treat coughs and chest colds. While you shouldn’t drink this tea too frequently, it has been consumed in moderation by native peoples for many years.

Read on to learn more about this herbal infusion!

When you have finished up here, check out what is ginseng tea for another tea that packs a health punch.

Finding Labrador Tea

Labrador tea is native to the northern portions of North America, including all of Canada, Greenland, and the swathes of the United States. The entire New England region of America. The Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest states support Labrador tea plants in the wild.

Labrador tea maintains a similar classification as the rhododendron flower and visually looks very similar. This perennial shrub goes by several common names, including Bog Labrador Tea, Hudson’s Bay Tea, Rusty Labrador Tea, and Muskeg Tea.

The plant grows primarily in very wet, swampy areas, flourishing in bogs and marshes. The twigs of this shrub are copper-red, providing year-round interest in these cold growing conditions. 

Gray-green oval leaves with a furry underside cover this shrub. This wooly evolution covering its leaves helps Labrador tea shrubs survive bitterly cold winters. Labrador tea shrubs perform well in challenging surroundings, even without the healthy soil other plants demand.

Labrador tea starts blooming in late spring and continues through the summer. After August, this shrub’s prolific bell-shaped, white flowers begin to fade. This plant will come back year after year if placed in the proper environment, whether in the wild or your backyard, as a perennial.

What Does Labrador Tea Taste Like?

Rhododendron groenlandicum plant in view
Rhododendron tea pairs well with a sweet pastry on a cold morning

This Rhododendron tea is known for having a floral taste. However, it also has the slight taste of pine or fir, and it pairs well with a sweet pastry on a cold morning.

The freshness of the tea can also influence the taste. If you’re having tea that’s been picked fresh, you may notice a strong bitter taste, similar to when black tea is over-steeped.

However, if you’re trying a dried blend, any bitterness is mild, and the floral notes are more pronounced.

If you like these kinds of flavors in tea, read about the ​​benefits of pine needle tea.

How To Prepare Labrador Tea

How to safely prepare labrador tea if you aren’t buying it ready prepared. 

Step 1: Gather the Leaves

If the plant is young and the leaves are small, you will want to gather them and dry them. Many people prefer to age them, but just be sure you don’t let them turn black. If they do, discard them.

If you gather older, larger leaves, then you don’t need to dry or age them, but can use them right away. 

Step 2: Boil Water and Steep

No matter the age of the leaf, when you’re heating your water, be sure you don’t boil it, or you may make the tea a bit too bitter. Then pour a little of the water over the leaves and leave to steep for a few minutes.

Step 3: Strain

Strain the concentrated labrador tea, and dilute it to your desired strength. Do keep in mind that highly concentrated labrador tea drunk regularly can have adverse side effects. 

Alternatively, you can steep the tea leaves like regular tea with other infusions. This won’t be as strong as pure Labrador tea concentrate, but it allows you to explore different flavor combinations.

Step 4: Enhance

Some like it sweetened with a touch of honey, or they like to enhance the pine notes with citrus, so add a slice of lemon.


It should be noted that this tea has narcotic properties due to its andromedotoxin (or grayanotoxin) contents. Symptoms may include lowering of blood pressure, convulsions, and a slowing of the pulse. In extreme cases, consumption of this tea can result in paralysis or death. 

To avoid toxicity, make sure to dilute the tea. It is a too-high concentration of the tea that results in adverse symptoms. Within a weak solution, the tea should be safe to drink. Buying Labrador tea from trusted sources also mitigates the risks involved.  

What Is Labrador Tea, Used For?

a woman drinking tea
Labrador tea also enhances game birds, red meat, and desserts

Many people have enjoyed this plant in warm beverages for generations. Several indigenous North American communities boil the leaves for medicinal purposes or to spice meats. The Pomo, Tolowa, Athabaskan, Kashaya, and Yurok people still use this plant’s leaves in many different ways.

North American colonists drank Labrador tea during the American Revolution. Soon after that, Germany outlawed using Labrador tea to enhance its ubiquitous beer. The addition of Labrador tea was thought to make consumers aggressive, so the practice was forbidden.

Today, the leaves of this abundant perennial shrub still experience wide use. Extracts from Labrador tea also feature in botanical beauty products in Quebec, Newfoundland, and even its namesake Labrador region. You can also brew Labrador tea leaves to help cure a common cold. 

Cooks in Nordic countries like Iceland or Greenland still use Labrador tea widely in many dishes. Labrador tea enhances game birds, red meat, and desserts.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy learning about Numi tea and Magic coffee.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any further questions about Labrador tea, take a look at these commonly asked questions.

Is Labrador Tea Safe?

While many indigenous tribes use Labrador tea effectively for several different purposes, Labrador tea is considered intoxicating. Always consume this product from a trusted source.

What Are The Side Effects Of Labrador Tea?

Like elderberries, rhubarb, or kidney beans, Labrador tea, while edible, is toxic and dangerous if not prepared properly. If you ingest improperly prepared Labrador tea, you are at risk for several symptoms ranging from salivation, nausea, and fatigue to paralysis and death.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.