Summary of ephedra and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: hpiip

Mormon Tea (Ephedra californica)


Ephedra is a gymnosperm. These are ancient plants that arose in the geologic record long before the flowering plants. Similar to other conifers, Ephedra has branches with joints and tiny seed cones. In fact, this interesting plant mostly consists of just twiggy stems. Mormon Tea grows throughout the Kumeyaay region of southern California.


You may be curious about the common name 'Mormon Tea'. It turns out, there is a related species of Ephedra in Utah (Ephedra viridis). Early Mormon settlers brewed a tea made by soaking these branches in hot water. This became a common custom among the Utah Mormon community and the name stuck.


However, long before the Mormons arrived, the Kumeyaay also boiled the green, twiggy branches to make a tea. The Kumeyaay used this tea to improve kidney function. An infusion of these same branches is also used to purify blood, improve the appetite and ease a stomach-ache caused from eating too much food. 


It is quite possible that the Mormons learned how to brew Ephedra tea by observing Native Americans.



Jointed stems of the Ephedra

photo credit: Stan Shebs CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons