After the Boston Tea Party of 1773, patriots looked for alternatives to purchasing the tea brought by the British from China. Several kinds of “liberty tea” soon appeared throughout the colonies, featuring herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary. People also used native plants as tea plants, following the wisdom of Native Americans. Here are popular native plants that were used and that deserve space in the garden, or teapot, today:
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus; USDA Zones 4–8)—an autumn-blooming, white-flowered shrub that grows in sun or part shade and can take dry soil. A teaspoon of dried leaves will create a nicely-flavored tea.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin); Zones 4–9)—a beauty for partial shade, this shrub offers early-spring flowers and golden fall foliage. Citrus-tinged iced tea can be made by crushing and soaking the leaves in tepid water for a few hours, then chilling the brew and adding sugar to taste. Winter tea is created by steeping inch-long twigs in hot water for about 15 minutes, resulting in a woodsy beverage.
Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina; Zones 2–6)—this fern tolerates poor and disturbed soils and partial shade, making it a good candidate for edging a drive or walkway. Crushing fresh fronds and soaking them in tepid water for an hour will make a nice light tea; one dried frond steeped for just a minute or two will make a good hot tea.
Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora; Zones 4–9)—also known as sweet goldenrod, this species makes a licorice-flavored drink and it doesn’t spread aggressively in a garden. Fresh leaves or dried flowers and leaves contribute to the tea.
Adapted from “Liberty Teas” by Akshay Ahuja, Horticulture March/April 2016.
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