Herb: New Jersey Tea

Latin name: Ceanothus americanus

Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family)

Medicinal use of New Jersey Tea:

The roots and root bark of New Jersey tea was used extensively by the North American Indians to treat fevers and problems of the mucous membranes such as catarrh and sore throats. Current day usage of the roots concentrates on their astringent, expectorant and antispasmodic actions and they are employed in the treatment of complaints such as asthma, bronchitis and coughs. The roots and root-bark are antispasmodic, antisyphilitic, strongly astringent (they contain 8% tannin), expectorant, haemostatic and sedative. They have a stimulatory effect on the lymphatic system, whilst an alkaloid in the roots is mildly hypotensive. The plant is used internally in the treatment of bronchial complaints including asthma and whooping cough, dysentery, sore throats, tonsillitis, haemorrhoids etc. A decoction of the bark is used as a skin wash for cancer and venereal sores. The powdered bark has been used to dust the sores. The roots are unearthed and partially harvested in the autumn or spring when their red colour is at its deepest. They are dried for later use.

Description of the plant:


120 cm
(4 feet)

June to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry woods and on gravelly banks, often on sandstone or limestone bluffs.

Edible parts of New Jersey Tea:

A refreshing and stimulating tea is made from the dried leaves, it is a good substitute for china tea though it does not contain caffeine.The leaves are gathered when the plant is in full bloom and are dried in the shade.

Other uses of the herb:

A green dye is obtained from the flowers. A cinnamon-coloured dye is obtained from the whole plant. A red dye is obtained from the root. The flowers are rich in saponins, when crushed and mixed with water they produce an excellent lather which is an effective and gentle soap. They can be used as a body wash (simply rub the wet blossoms over the body) or to clean clothes. The flowers were much used by the North American Indians as a body wash, especially by the women in preparation for marriage, and they leave the skin smelling fragrantly of the flowers.

Propagation of New Jersey Tea:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed should be pre-soaked for 12 hours in warm water and then given 1 - 3 months stratification at 1C. Germination usually takes place in 1 - 2 months at 20C. One report says that the seed is best given boiling water treatment, or heated in 4 times its volume of sand at 90 - 120C for 4 - 5 minutes and then soaked in warm water for 12 hours before sowing it. The seed exhibits considerable longevity, when stored for 15 years in an air-tight dry container at 1 - 5C it has shown little deterioration in viability. The seed is ejected from its capsule with some force when fully ripe, timing the collection of seed can be difficult because unless collected just prior to dehiscence the seed is difficult to extract and rarely germinates satisfactorily. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter and plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, taken at a node, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood of the current year's growth, 7 - 12 cm with a heel, October in a cold frame. The roots are quite brittle and it is best to pot up the callused cuttings in spring, just before the roots break. Good percentage.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry woods and on gravelly banks, often on sandstone or limestone bluffs.

Known hazards of Ceanothus americanus:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.