New Jersey tea is so named because the dried leaves of this North American native were often used
as tea during the Revolutionary War. Several dyes have been extracted from this plant: green (from
the white (!) flowers); brown from the whole plant; and red from its red roots. Native Americans washed
using the flowers, which contain saponins—natural soap.
This shrub is nitrogen-fixing, meaning that it
converts atmospheric nitrogen directly into usable nutrition (with the help of bacteria).
Identification: New Jersey tea is a deciduous shrub
less than 18-42" (45-106 cm) tall. The roots are thick, woody, and red in color. Leaves are alternate, 2-4" (5-10 cm) long, and have very fine hairs that make them appear a bit grayish in color.
Small white flowers appear in clusters up to 2" (5 cm) around, on long thin leafless branch tips. Fruits begin as brown-black irregularly shaped
globes about ⅛-¼" (3.2-6.3 mm) around. As they age, three white nutlets become visible. When these first caught
my eye from a distance, the
alternating brown and white sections appeared golden in color.
Edibility: A tea said by some sources to be "refreshing and stimulating" was made from the leaves during the Revolutionary War.