Ceanothus americanus L.
Ceanothus americanus L. var. intermedius (Pursh) Torr. & A. Gray
Ceanothus americanus L. var. pitcheri Torr. & A. Gray
Ceanothus intermedius Pursh
New Jersey Tea, Red Root, Wild Snowball, Mountain Sweet
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.
Ceanothus americanus on www.carolinanature.com
Ceanothus americanus on Missouriplants.com
Ceanothus americanus at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Ceanothus americanus on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Ceanothus americanus description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 2 Jan 2019.