Leatherleaf – Chamaedaphne Calyculata: Edible & Alt Uses of the Sun Tea of Wild Plants

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Leatherleaf (chamaedaphne calyculata) is common around Haliburton, Ontario, in bogs and on the edges of wetlands. This shrubby evergreen plant is often walked past, but if you notice it and get close you may see its white bell shaped flowers covered in ants. If you see leatherleaf, you’re in a wetland!

Leatherleaf – Chamaedaphne Calyculata with ants
Leatherleaf – Chamaedaphne Calyculata with ants

The flowers may remind you of a blueberry flowers, or wintergreen, shinleaf, or bearberry, and perhaps even ghost pipes. They are all in the heath family.

Edible Uses of Leatherleaf

Carefully prepared, the dried or fresh leaves can be steeped in cool water in a sunny spot for a tea. Do not boil it. Teas like this are often called “sun teas”, because boiling may release andromedotoxin, a common toxin in heath family of plants.

Alternative Uses of Cassandra

You’ve probably seen its leathery green leaves used to fill in floral arrangements. 

Leatherleaf – Chamaedaphne Calyculata
Leatherleaf – Chamaedaphne Calyculata

Growing Chamaedaphne Calyculata

If you have a garden bog or a wetland on your property that has been disturbed and needs rehabilitated, this is a foundational species. Some of the other native bog plants need it for stability, like pitcher plants. And not only ants, but flies and bees will visit the flowers. Leatherleaf and other native heaths are the host family for the brown elfin (callophrys augustinus) butterfly too.

Ontario wetlands have been disappearing, in some areas as much as 85% have been wiped out. Protections are often being eliminated or circumvented in the name of corporate greed. The teacher for the Master Naturalist course I took from Lakehead U, Bob Bowles, is one of the leaders of The Orillia Wetland Watchers. Perhaps there is such a group near you? Some lakes in Haliburton have their own group. If yours doesn’t, perhaps the CHA can help set one up? And our local landtrust is protecting some of our wetlands.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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