About New Jersey Tea: During the time of the Revolutionary War, the American colonists began making their own tea as a substitute for the expensive Chinese or British tea. The leaves of this nitrogen-fixing native shrub, which grew abundantly in New Jersey, could be used to make a beverage much like black tea. Native American women often used the fragrant flowers as a soap, since they produce a gentle lather and cleansing agent; the entire plant has also been used in the production of brown, green, and red dyes. This plant is a host for several butterfly species such as Spring and Summer Azures and the Mottled Duskywing. Its deep, extensive root system makes it one of the most fire-resistant shrubs on the prairie; fire may actually improve the germination of its seeds.
New Jersey Tea Germination: This seed requires scarification and stratification to break its dormancy. Pour boiling water over the seeds and let them soak overnight; next, mix the seeds with moist sand and store them in the refrigerator for 70 days before planting. Direct sow the treated seed in the spring after the last frost, planting just below the surface of the soil. When planted in the fall, only the boiling water treatment will be needed before direct sowing the seed. Germination may be slow and irregular. This plant prefers dry soil, and grows well in rocky or shallow soil.
Growing New Jersey Tea Seeds: Though seedlings should be watered occasionally until they become established, mature plants handle drought well and do not tolerate excess moisture. This plant develops rather slowly, since producing its extensive, deep roots take much of its energy in the first few seasons; transplanting is not recommended because of these deep roots. Over time, it will spread and form a colony. New Jersey Tea attracts butterflies, bees, and many other insects, as well as being a food source for deer and birds. This plant makes a lovely fragrant border as well as being a good addition to native prairie plantings; in winter, the yellow twigs remain attractive.
Harvesting New Jersey Tea: New Jersey Tea makes a very attractive, fragrant cut flower. Cut the stems long and place them in water immediately, stripping off the leaves that fall below the water level. For tea, gather the leaves when the plant is in full bloom; spread them out to dry fully, out of direct sunlight.
Saving New Jersey Tea Seeds: This plant spreads its seeds by exploding them out of their pods, making harvesting a challenge. Keep a close watch on the heads, since they will explode soon after they turn a dark color. When the seed heads turn nearly black, remove them and spread them out to dry. A light cover of some kind may be necessary, since the seed heads may still explode and release their seeds as they dry. Separate the seeds from their pods and store the cleaned seed in a cool, dry place.
Detailed New Jersey Tea Info: Origin: US Native Other Common Names: Redshank, Wild Snowball, Mountain Sweet, Redroot, Wild Lilac, New Jersey Red Root Duration: Perennial Bloom Time: Summer Height: 24-36 inches Spacing: 24-36 inches Light: Full Sun Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry USDA Zone: 4a-10b Seeds Per Oz: 7,300 Produces a low-growing, branching shrub with serrated, oval leaves and 2” clusters of tiny, fragrant white flowers.