What do the following have in common: an essential oil, an anti-aging cream, a tisane, a gin and a spice? Labrador tea! The leaves of this plant are found in many Québec-made products.
Recognized and sought-after properties
Like many other forest-dwelling plants, Labrador tea has captured the interest of industry for a number of years. It possesses many virtues, which First Nations peoples have known since before any Europeans ever set foot in North America.
Studies have demonstrated the plant’s medicinal properties, including action against bacteria and fungi harmful to human health. It is thought to have the potential to treat diabetes or to assist those suffering from respiratory problems and fever related to colds and flu.
Rhododendron groenlandicum © Photo : Alain Cuerrier
Labrador tea is a member of the same family as blueberries. It has a wide range and covers a vast territory in Canada.
Should we be concerned about this plant being harvested in the wild? In other words, is this sustainable? Or are we putting this resource at risk? Each spring, this plant grows just a few leaves at the end of its branches. The previous year’s leaves, which last two years, remain on the plant.
Therefore, in June, you can see a series of leaves with red hairs on their underside (last year’s growth) and another series closer to the end of the branch with white hairs on top (new growth).
Pick with care
A recent study by the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV) illustrates the potential impact of over-harvesting.
It concludes that Labrador tea plants will die if all their leaves are removed. If only the previous year’s leaves are picked, however, the plants survive. As a precaution, until further studies have been carried out, researchers are asking harvesters to respect the populations of Labrador tea by leaving several leaves from the current year on each plant.
We all know how the ginseng harvest ended in Québec! Ginseng is now in a precarious situation and harvesting it is now illegal. Let’s keep biodiversity alive!