Traditional Medicine

Herbal teas

Labrador Tea (Mamaittuqutik)
Labrador tea is found on hillsides and is picked all year round, though it is stronger in fall and winter. As one person said, “It doesn’t die. Like an animal, like a dog, it keeps its fur, but in the spring the fur is renewed.” The older the plant the better, and Labrador tea does not lose its flavour in winter. In some more southerly areas of northern Quebec, there are two sub-species of the plant: a smaller, more effective and better tasting plant that grows along the coast and a larger, more bitter plant that grows inland.

Labrador tea is boiled and drunk or the leaves are simply chewed to stop bleeding, to treat breathing problems, to strengthen, and for almost any general ache or pain. A strong ointment may be made by boiling the leaves and mixing them with a little clear fried seal oil and water. This ointment or chewed leaves are applied to the skin and various parts of the body for aches, fever, sore throats and nosebleeds. It is said that the treatment will work better if the surface of the skin is cleaned before the ointment is applied, so hasten absorption.

Ground juniper (Qisiqtutauyak)
Ground juniper is found only at or below the treeline. It is boiled to make a tea which has similar curative properties to Labrador tea, though it is considered stronger, more effective and better tasting. It is not used to make an ointment. The tea is drunk for colds, lung ailments, loss of blood, bladder trouble and “general illness.”

Fireweed (Paunnaq)
Fireweed is boiled whole (excepting the roots) and the tea is drunk for stomachaches and general illness. There is no specific season to pick it, although year-old plants are best. The leaves are also chewed to stop a nosebleed.

Cloudberry (Arpehutik)
The leaves of the cloudberry plant, usually found near the shore of lakes and the sea, make a good-tasting tea. It is drunk to treat kidney ailments, stomachaches and general ailments. Year-old leaves picked in the fall are preferred.

Arctic cottongrass (Suputik/Suputauyak)
The cotton-like “head” of the plant, once used to start fires, is placed on the umbilicus of a newborn, sometimes mixed with a little ground charcoal first. This part of the plant is collected in the fall. In the spring, oil from the stem is harvested and this is used to clear up warts.

Other plants
The spiny base of an alpine smartweed (qaqilanahutik) and bearberry leaves are used to make teas to treat stomachache and general illness.

Mushroom tops are picked in the summer and are best when old and split. They are not edible, but are shredded and placed on cuts, frostbite and infections to dry and heal them. Only the top part of the mushroom is used, not the stem.

Mountain sandwort (maliksuarak) called the “lettuce of the Inuit” is found on beaches and is eat raw to relieve diarrhea.

The dwarf willow (amaalhnaaq) with edible leaves and orange blossoms grows everywhere. The roots are peeled and bitten on top of a sore tooth.

Rock tripe, a kind of black lichen, can be boiled and the tea is drunk to treat tuberculosis.