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Scientific Names

Ephedra nevadensis L.

Ephedra sinica




Common Names

Brigham Young weed 

Desert herb 

Desert tea 

Ma huang  Mormon tea 

Squaw tea 

Teamster’s tea

Parts Usually Used

Above ground herb and root (known as ma huang gen of the E. sinica variety).

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Desert tea is a broom-like shrub, somewhat resembling shave grass. The jointed grooved, green stems and branches of some species reach heights of up to 7 feet, but most are smaller. 2 to 3 scalelike leaves, more or less persistent depending on the species, grow at each joint in the stem and branches. ale and female cones appear on different plants, the male featuring prominent yellow pollen sacs. Other varieties: Ma-huang (E. sinica); Joint fir (E. sinensis); (E. trifurca); (E. viridis); Somalata in Sanskrit and also called Ma huang by the Chinese (E. vulgaris); (E. equistina) from Siberia and China. Ephedra is the source of the widely used drug ephedrine. In India, the variety E. gerardiana is thought to have been the prime ingredient of soma, a potent tonic and elixir of youth.

Medicinal Properties

Diaphoretic, stimulant, decongestant, antirheumatic, astringent, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic

Biochemical Information

Ephedrine alkaloids (small amount) Ephedra root: alkaloid ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine, tannins, saponin, flavone, essential oil


Legends, Myths and Stories

E. nevadensis is known as Mormon tea because the Mormons made an herbal brew from it. The earliest record of Mormon tea appeared in the Badianus manuscript; a 1552 herbal highlighting Mexican plants. Written by an Aztec medicine man, the book was translated into Latin and the original copy today resides in the Vatican. Known to early settlers of the American West as “squaw tea”, and was an excellent substitute for coffee or regular tea. The early pioneers brewed this tea and mixed the powder of pinon pine sap to concoct a salve to soothe open sores on humans and animals alike. Mormon tea works similarly to ma huang but is less strong. There is a significant difference in stimulating properties between the Oriental ephedra, ma huang, and the American variety which has little or no ephedrine alkaloids. The more stimulating Chinese ma huang contains plant forms of adrenaline, ephedrine and nor-ephedrine. Ma huang is the Emperor or principal therapeutic herb for the Chinese. Ma-huang (E. sinica) is a Chinese species of ephedra which has been used in China for over 2,000 years to treat headache, colds, fevers, and skin eruptions. It contains a potent alkaloid, ephedrine, which is present only minutely in other species. Used medicinally for colds, asthma, and hay fever. Native Americans added Mormon tea to their treatment of venereal diseases. The alkaloid ephedrine, extracted from the ephedra, was first identified by Chinese scientists in 1924; 2 years later the pharmaceutical company Merck produced a synthetic version, still used to treat asthma. Today, compounds derived from ephedra are commonly found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.


Commonly taken as a pleasant beverage. Can be used as a remedy for kidney and bladder problems, colds, flu, asthma, headaches, hayfever, allergies, hives, rheumatism, lung problems, water retention. Native Americans of the southwest drink a decoction several times a day to relieve kidney pain or to treat a fever. Native Americans used it, both internally and externally, to treat syphilis and mucous discharges. Early pioneers considered desert tea a good blood purifier. Delicious and unusual flavor, good aroma. The ephedra root is used to treat diarrhea, sweating, night sweats, and postpartum

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are intended to support general well being and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure any condition or disease.