Ephedra viridis

Taxonomy: Gymnophyta (Gymnosperm); Family Ephedraceae

Common names: Green ephedra, Mountain joint fir, Mormon Tea, Brigham Tea.

By: Maya Strunk (Spring 2001 Independent Study)


Background and Historical insight for medicinal uses:

 Parasites and plagues have taken advantage of animals and humans since the beginning of human existence. Medicinal plants have opened the door to offer alternative methods of relieving some sicknesses. Our ancestors learned how to recognize and use specific plants to treat various ailments, and this knowledge is what constitutes the historical basis of modern medicinal botany. Archeological analysis reveals that as long ago as 60,000 years, Neanderthals prepared a gravesite inside a cave in Iraq. The buried individuals would be surrounded by eight plants, seven of which are now recognized as medicinal plants(Sumner 2000). Among these plants, was a species from the Ephedraceae family, E. viridis. Several ephedra species are now used as cardiac stimulants (Sumner 2000), treatment of asthma and bronchitis (Sumner 2000), and it is thought that our ancestors used this plant to treat these kinds of ailments in a similar fashion.


Appearance and Habitat:

E. viridis, commonly known as Mormon Tea, is a small-medium sized shrub, with jointed needles that range from 2-12" in length. The general appearance of this plant is that of a weather-beaten, long needled, stunted pine (Moore 1979). The barkless stems range from grayish blue with spikelike tips (E. torreyana) to bright yellow green or dark green (E. viridis).

The large branches spring from a deep rootstock and there is seldom a pronounced center trunk. Flowers and fruit are green cones that become very brittle and brown when dry. They bloom and mature in early spring or even late winter and are gone by April or May. E. viridis is most abundant in the Great Basin, the Four Corners region, Big Bend in Texas, and in mountainous deserts and foothills of south central California.


Medicinal uses:

E. viridis can be made into a distinctive pleasant tea and used as a beverage, thus the name Mormon Tea. The tea hasa strong diuretic effect and is used as a remedy primarily by Native Americans and Spanish speaking peoples of the Southwest (Moore 1979). Its relatives in China and India are a source of the drug Ephedrine, a bronchodilator and decongestant (Moore 1979). E. viridis also aides in the relief whenever urinary tract problems arise, and has also been used to treat syphilis.


 Active Compound:Ephedrine is a herbal stimulant that is derived from some forty related species, principally North American species such as Mormon Tea and Chinese Ma Huang (E. sinica). It has long been used to help relieve bronchial spasms and to treat asthma. Ephedrine dilates the bronchial muscles, contracts the nasal mucosa, raises blood pressure, and is a cardiac stimulant. Studies confirm that it contains the adrenaline like substances ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. Effects are elevated blood pressure and heart beat. Ephedrine's action is similar to that of adrenaline. It's effects, although less powerful, are more prolonged, and it exerts an action when given orally whereas adrenaline is effective only by injection.


While ephedrine is great for late night study sessions or long drives cross country, there have been some recent concerns about taking this herbal stimulant. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed around the country against the makers of this controversial stimulant that can also be consumed as a dietary supplement. This stimulant is blamed for causing serious death or illness (Washington Post 2000). The Washington Post found 33 cases that companies have settled since 1994 with claimants reporting serious reactions ranging from nervousness and insomnia to cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure, seizure and stroke. With all medications and dietary supplements, one should always follow the dosing instructions and consult your physician immediately if you have concerns or questions.


1. Moore, Michael (1979). Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. p. 109-110.
Publisher: The Museum of the New Mexico Press.

2. Sumner, Judith (2000). The Natural History of Medicinal Plants. p. 145
Publisher: Timber Press, Inc.

3. Gugliotta, Guy (2000). The Washington Post