New Jersey Tea – Ceanothus Americanus: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Redroot of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, odiga’dimanido’ refers to prairie redroot, New Jersey teas close relation. Both have red roots and thus redroot as a folk name. They have the same uses and host the same caterpillars. This edible and medicinal plant will certainly end up in our pollinator series for the Wood Folk Diaries!

The shrub New Jersey tea (ceanothus americanus), while absent from Haliburton Flora, is a native plant not to miss. It’s host plant to the endangered mottled duskywing skippers caterpillars. Same goes for the narrow leaved NJ tea aka inland ceanothus aka prairie redroot (ceanothus herbaceus) which also grows native in Ontario. They are both called redroot (and that fact has confused me more than once!)

New Jersey Tea - Ceanothus Americanus
New Jersey Tea – Ceanothus Americanus

Edible Uses of New Jersey Tea

The dried leaves and flowers make an oriental tasting herbal tea sometimes called “mountain tea”. Harvest in the summertime. Older leaves make a heartier brew. Steep dried leaves and flowers for 5 minutes for a delicious caffeine free tea.

Medicinal Uses of New Jersey Tea

New Jersey Tea is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Lymphatic
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Alterative, Antibacterial, Antispasmodic, Astringent, Expectorant and Sedative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes herbalists using it for swollen spleen, swollen prostate, etc., as a lymphatic alterative for certain conditions.

While redroot has many astringency related/skin and respiratory uses, there are far more popular herbs for such.

Alternative Uses of Redroot

The flowers foam when rubbed in water, which makes it useful as a naturally fragrant shampoo or bodywash tea.

The root makes a red dye, the flowers a light green, and a cinnamon brown can be obtained from the whole plant.

Growing Ceanothus Americanus

The snowball-like white flowers bring to mind the popular hydrangea, except this native plant is the host plant of the caterpillars of the endangered mottled duskywing skipper (erynnis martialis), various other duskywings (erynnis spp.), and those vivid little blue butterflies the spring/summer azures (celastrina argiolus). Many pollinators will visit redroots blooms.

Because our two redroots don’t flower at the exact same time, it’s strategic to plant them both. They can be propagated from seed or bought from native plant nurseries. They like partial to full sun and do well in average to dry soil, not being too fussy about the soil type. They are drought resistant too.


Avoid consuming if allergic to aspirin.

And the Usual Cautions:

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

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

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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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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