Mormon tea is prepared from the fresh or dried stems of Ephedra nevadensis Wats., family Ephedraceae, a small erect shrub native to the desert regions of the southwestern United States and adjacent parts of Mexico. Called popotillo by the Mexicans, and Mormon tea, Brigham tea, teamster's tea, or squaw tea by the early American settlers, it was once a very popular folk remedy for syphilis and especially, gonorrhea. Although its taste is quite astringent, those who become accustomed to it like it as a pleasantly refreshing beverage. The name Mormon tea probably derives from its use as a caffeine-free thirst quencher.
Since 1552, the plant yielding Mormon tea has been recommended as being beneficial to health. Widely used by frontiersmen as a cure for venereal disease, Mormon tea is also described as a remedy for colds and kidney disorders, and as a "spring tonic." Spoerke attributes its activity to the presence of an undetermined amount of the alkaloid ephedrine, a medication which constricts the blood vessels, dilates the bronchioles, and stimulates the central nervous system. Gottlieb, Mowed, and Castleman state that Mormon tea's active constituent is not ephedrine but (+ )-norpseudoephedrine, an even more potent central nervous system stimulant.
Actually, five different groups of investigators have been unable to detect the presence of ephedrine, (+ )-norpseudoephedrine, or any other alkaloid in E. nevadensis, and we may safely conclude that the plant is alkaloid-free. This is in keeping with all other North American species of Ephedra which are singularly devoid of alkaloids. Mormon tea does contain large amounts of tannin, in addition to a resin and a volatile oil.
Administration of a fluidextract and an infusion (tea) of the medication to human subjects produced definite, but relatively mild, diuresis. The tea, which contained more water-soluble principles, was more effective in this regard than the alcoholic extract. Some constipation, probably due to the tannin, was also noted. The investigators concluded that Mormon tea does not belong to the exceedingly active class of medicinal plants and that the properties usually attributed to it are already "well supplied by some well-established therapeutic agent."
This is sound comment. If you enjoy the astringent flavor of Mormon tea and are not concerned about its high tannin content, you will be satisfied. If you expect it to have any pronounced therapeutic effect, you will be disappointed.
A stunted, weather-beaten shrub, Mormon tea has furnished a refreshing beverage for residents of Mexico and the American Southwest since Aztec times. By one account the name refers to the early Mormon settlers, who abstained from regular tea and coffee, but drank the beverage made from this plant. The tea is brewed from the powdered twigs.
Mormon tea is related to the Chinese plant ma huang (E. sinica), which contains the medication ephedrine-a bronchial dilator, decongestant, and central nervous system stimulant much used in modern medicine. The American species has no ephedrine, however.
A tea brewed from twigs of the plant is to this day a popular thirst quencher and folk remedy; however, none of its uses in folk medicine have been validated by research. Although no ephedrine is found in the American ephedras, proponents of Mormon tea maintain that it works as a decongestant and asthma remedy, like its ephedrine-rich Chinese relative, ma huang. In the desert, people chew a piece of the twig to relieve the pain of sunburned lips.
Mormon tea is native to the U.S. Southwest and Mexico.
Mormon tea contains tannin, resin, volatile oil.