Category Archives: Herbs / Teas

Medicinal Weeds: Rayless Chamomile

Photo of Rayless Chamomile flowers

Rayless Chamomile (Matricaria discoidea) is a short plant of roadsides, unpaved driveways, and similarly disturbed habitats. The button-like flower heads are comprised of tiny yellow disc flowers, surrounded by the slightest suggestion of white ray flower petals (effectively rayless). In the top photo, notice how hundreds of flowers are open, while others have yet to bloom. This plant is also called Pineapple Weed, and indeed the leaves and flowers smell decidedly like the sweet, familiar Pineapple fruit.

The fresh or dried plant tops can be brewed as tea and used for various medicinal purposes. In his book Ancenstral Plants (2010), Arthur Haines says infusions of Rayless Chamomile can help with stress, anxiety, inflammation and various skin conditions. He also notes that, "Drinking the tea or making a stronger infusion and using it as a gargle is beneficial for oral hygiene." Read his full species account (p. 145-146) for more details.

Due to this plant's habit of growing close to roads*, I've not yet consumed Rayless Chamomile, though the fragrance of a crushed leaf or flower never fails to improve my mood. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*If you know of a patch growing in a safer location (preferably near Kennebunkport, ME), do tell.

Bog Plants: Labrador-tea

Photo of Labrador Tea flowers

As Rhodora and Bog American-laurel finish blooming and set fruit, Labrador-tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) celebrates another turn of the seasons with bright white flower clusters. This bog-loving shrub's leaves, which have noticeably hairy undersides, are said to make a delicious cup of tea, but I've yet to find a large enough population to justify harvesting.

Photo of Labrador Tea leaves

Labrador-tea is easily located and identified when flowering (the rest of the year this low shrub is easy to overlook). Using Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, begin by answering the basic questions to obtain a 3-digit code.

Flower type: 5 Regular Parts (5--)
Plant type: Shrub (55-)
Leaf type: Leaves Entire (552)

The key then asks if the leaves are evergreen (yes) and under 1" long (no). Bog American-laurel shares these characteristics. The key then points to page 292, where you can find this native member of the Heath (Ericaceae) family. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Winter Tree ID: American Linden

Photo of American Linden trunk

American Linden (Tilia americana), also known as Basswood, grows in river floodplains throughout most of New England, and is a common street tree in some towns. This species has many notable features including edible young leaves, fragrant flowers that can be used for tea and medicine, strong inner bark that can be made into cordage or rope, and light-weight wood that is easy to carve and suitable as the hearth board and drill of a bow-drill fire set.

Photo of American Linden fruit

In late fall, clusters of tan nutlets reveal the presence of mature trees. Some clusters can be found littering the ground, perhaps landing atop freshly fallen snow, while others remain clinging to branches, where they dangle beneath a leaf-like bract that serves as a wind-glider. Despite the built-in glider, in my experience, clusters don't sail far from the parent tree. Where crops are heavy, look for the feeding sign of small mammals and birds.

Photo of American Linden winter buds

Twigs feature rounded, red buds, from which tender, tasty greens will emerge next spring. If you've never met American Linden, now might be a good time to visit a river floodplain and get acquainted.

Subshrub ID: Eastern Spicy-wintergreen

Photo of Eastern Spicy Wintergreen

Eastern Spicy-wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is an evergreen subshrub of the forest floor. The plant's leathery leaves grow clustered on short upright stems. The red, pea-sized fruit dangles from the center in bunches or singly, as is the case above. The fruit is edible, if a bit mealy, with a minty flavor. The leaves, when chopped up and steeped as a tea, or simply nibbled, release a similarly pleasant flavor. Other common names for Gaultheria procumbens include Checkerberry, Teaberry, and Spiceberry. This subshrub can be distinguished from Partridge-berry in that the latter features smaller, oppositely-arranged leaves and fruit with a distinct pair of "eyes".

Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot

During the last week of June, I discovered a single clump of an unfamiliar shrub.  After identifying it using a few reliable plant guides, I was confident that I'd located New Jersey Redroot (Ceanothus americanus), also called New Jersey Tea.  As the latter name suggests, the leaves of this shrub can be used to make a caffeine-free tea substitute -- a use reportedly popular during the Revolutionary War.

New Jersey Redroot

New Jersey Redroot is a small shrub, which I probably would have overlooked had it not been flowering when I passed it.  It prefers dry, sandy sites. Continue reading Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot