Plant: Gaultheria procumbens, Eastern Teaberry
After foraging ramps (plants that make you smell like onion/garlic breath), you’ll be glad to find eastern teaberries! They have a very mild wintergreen flavor, and are quite enjoyable as a light snack or as an addition to your trail oatmeal. The plant is also known as wintergreen or checkerberry. They were the first berries we foraged in the spring and we saw the dark shiny leaves of this evergreen groundcover all throughout the Appalachian Trail. The plant is native to the northeastern areas of the United States. We collected them to pop into our mouths for a tasty snack while we were hiking and we also added them to our oatmeal in the mornings. We made a teaberry sandwich using bread, peanut butter, and teaberries mushed into the peanut butter…it was a little weird, but not bad. We found it interesting that we typically found large patches of teaberries in sections that looked like they had been burned relatively recently. The leaves of the plant are edible too and some had quite a strong wintergreen gum flavor. We enjoyed chewing on the leaves as we were walking to curb our constant obsessing about food while we were hiking.
Just a Few of the Eastern Teaberry’s Benefits:
1. Teaberries fix your bad breath! This might sound gross, but we didn’t brush our teeth every day on the trail. Surprisingly, our teeth became whiter and healthier looking than they ever looked for both of us after hiking the AT. It was likely from eating so many nutritious foods and drinking from amazing clear sources of water, but still, it was nice to have pleasant breath eating teaberries.
2. Teaberries could help your aches and pains! The teaberry leaves contain methyl salicylate, which acts as an effective anti-inflammatory. Instead of taking aspirin, consider making tea with teaberry leaves.
3. Teaberries could possibly relieve your flatulence (and other conditions related to digestion)! How does that work? Who knows…this hasn’t actually been scientifically tested, but Native Americans thought it was a good solution for treating gas (perhaps as a breath freshener for the other end).
Warnings: While we do not have any specific warnings about foraging eastern teaberries at this time, you’ll of course want to be absolutely sure the plant is teaberry before eating it. And don’t eat too many at once, just in case.
Edible Parts of Eastern Teaberries: Leaves, Berries
How to Eat Eastern Teaberries: The leaves and berries can be eaten raw or cooked. Since the leaves are kind of tough, most people prefer to dry the leaves and make tea out of them. On the trail, we enjoyed pretending the leaves were gum and we chewed on them. We didn’t try cooking the berries, but that’s a thing too.
Taste to Expect: The leaves and berries have a mild wintergreen flavor and are used for flavoring items like gum, candies, and even wine.
Where to Find Eastern Teaberries: Along the Appalachian Trail and northeastern areas of the United States, they grow as a common ground cover in a wide variety of soils. They typically prefer shady or partially shaded areas.
When to Find Eastern Teaberries: We found the most berries right after a frost and in mid to late spring. We were competing with the turkeys to forage the berries, but we still were able to munch on the leaves, even when we couldn’t find any more berries later on our hike.
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Forage responsibly. Please do not trample on plants when going off trail to forage eastern teaberries.
2. Do NOT eat eastern teaberries unless you are absolutely sure they are teaberries! Eat small amounts until you know how you’re body will react to a new wild food.
Identification: Eastern teaberries have dark green shiny oval-shaped leaves about 2-3 inches long and the berries are pinkish-red with a little star shape on the top when you pick them. Each plant typically bares 1-3 berries, making the berries a bit tedious to forage. They are typically about the size of a small blueberry. In fact, they are in the same family as blueberries. Red berries that grow singularly or in small patches are typically edible, while red berries that grow in clusters are typically poisonous.
LOOKALIKES: The partridgeberry looks very similar to the eastern teaberry, but as you can see in the picture to the left, the leaves are much smaller, rounder, and more stringy and vine-like. Fortunately, if you mistake a partridgeberry for a teaberry, it’s okay. They are edible too, but have zero flavor. (Yuck!)