Are you growing any “Liberty Tea” in your garden?

“Tea made from a plant or shrub (Ceanothus americanus) grown in Pearsontown about 20 miles from Portland, Maine, was served to a circle of ladies and gentlemen in Newbury Port, who pronounced it nearly, if not quite, its equal in flavor to genuine Bohea [one of three Chinese black teas tossed overboard later in 1773]. So important a discovery claims attention, especially at this crisis. If we have the plant, nothing is wanted but the process of curing it into tea of our own manufacture,” The Boston Gazette, 1768 

After the Boston Tea Party occurred on Dec. 16, 1773, many colonial Americans boycotted black tea, but not everyone could afford the extra expense or time to grind up coffee beans. It was patriotic to serve Liberty Teas that were made from the leaves, and sometimes the roots, of native North American plants. One of the most common was New Jersey Tea, which was made from the leaves of Ceanothus americanus, an aromatic shrub that grows about 3 feet high and is found in the wild as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. However, it is hardy in Southern Oregon as well, and once established, is drought-tolerant. The white flowers that bloom in springtime attract bees and butterflies.

The Pacific Northwest has several native Ceanothus species; perhaps the most common is C. thyrsiflorus, commonly called blueblossom or California lilac. The true blue blossoms are beautiful in the late spring, and the small, glossy, rich green leaves are evergreen. C. gloriosus, or Point Reyes Ceanothus, grows wild along coastal California, where it grows on oceanside bluffs and mountain slopes.

Besides New Jersey Tea, colonial Americans drank tea made from many other native North American plants. Are you growing any of these: red sumac berries (Indian Lemonade Tea), raspberry, strawberry, mints, bergamot, lemon balm, verbena, red clover, chamomile, violets and goldenrod.

To make Liberty Tea, harvest the entire plant and hang upside down in a well-ventilated area out of direct sun, or snip leaves in the morning off a plant that will continue to grow, wash/pat, and dry the leaves in a single layer on trays or between paper towels. When the leaves are completely dry and crisp, store them whole in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several months. Crush the leaves when you are ready to use them. Steep about a teaspoon of dried leaves in a cup of boiling water for about five minutes.


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  • About the Author

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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