Ephedra genus
Mormon Tea

Green Ephedra

Green ephedra (Ephedra viridis) — green photosynthesizing stems and yellowish male cones at stem nodes. Along Methuselah Trail in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, eastern California.
By Dcrjsr - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16450963

This medium-sized shrub grows up to 4 feet high and appears to have no leaves. It looks like a thicket of numerous green, jointed, leafless photosynthetic branches with conspicuous nodes. It spreads by branching out its underground rhizomes.

It actually does have small, scale-like leaves and tiny flowers of male and female cones which bloom February through April. The fruit is a seed surrounded by 2 or 3 large scales.

There are a number of species of ephedra growing in the southwestern deserts of the U.S., including E. trifurca, E. viridis, E. torreyana, E. nevadensis and E. californica.

Ephedra has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes by various peoples over the centuries. Ephedra gets its name from ephedrine – some varieties contain high concentrations of the stimulant. It has been used to control blood pressure during surgeries and to treat headaches and respiratory problems, but it gained notoriety as a weight loss treatment. The Chinese form is called ma huang. Its use over the counter was banned in the United States in 2004 due to adverse heart events and poisonings experienced by users.


All four of the southwestern deserts of the U.S.



Mesas, plains, sandy soil including dunes below 5,000 feet.



Mormon Tea

There is some disagreement over the origin of the name "Mormon Tea". Attributed by some to Mormons in the southwest seeking an alternative to tea or coffee, it refers to ephedra nevadensis and possibly Ephedra viridis. It is also called ephedra antisyphilitica. Miners used it as a treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Native Americans used it for as a kidney tonic and to ease stomach aches. The ephedra that grows in the Southwest does not contain as much ephedrine as other varieties.

Brigham Young was said to drink a tea called "composition tea" or "hot pepper tea" made from herbs, but there is no confirmation that it contained ephedra. (https://pioneerfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-news-mormon-tea.html) Some say the name "Mormon Tea" may have been used as a pejorative due to the association with sexually transmitted diseases.

Ephedra Fragilis
Ephedra fragilis, flowers of a male plant: BG BotaniCactus, Ses Salines, Mallorca, Spain
By Ies at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37807405



Desert Plant & Wildflower Index
Joshua Tree National Park
Mojave Yucca
Plants And Animals How They Are Classified
U2′s Joshua Tree


Photos tips: Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function - usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.

Mojave Desert Wildflowers - This book is the standard by which all other wildflower books are measured. The author, Jon Mark Stewart, has combined super photography with concise information. This book has an entire color page for each wildflower covered, with a discussion of the wildflower. 210 pages with 200 color photos. More...

What's Blooming Now - Check the Wildflower Reports


Related DesertUSA Pages


Share this page on Facebook:

DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)

The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms


Enter Email:

Shop desert store



Copyright © 1996- DesertUSA.com and Digital West Media, Inc. - -