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What Is Mormon Tea?

By Angie Johnson-Schmit
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Mormon tea refers to several plants in the Ephedraceae family — Ephedra torreyana, Ephedra viridis, and Ephedra navadensis — that are commonly found in the American Southwest and Mexico. A beverage brewed from the twig-like stems of the plant is called Mormon tea and was used as a folk remedy by indigenous groups and early American settlers. The herbal concoction was primarily used as a decongestant to relieve respiratory ailments such as asthma. In addition, the tea was used to treat urinary tract disorders and hypotension, and the stems of the plant were chewed as a remedy for sunburned lips. Also known as Brigham tea, desert tea, and popotillo, the tea is described as having an astringent but not unpleasant taste.

Generally, the plants are medium-sized woody shrubs that grow to a height of 2 to 5 feet (about .61 to 1.54 m). The plant is sometimes called a joint fir due to the jointed, needle-shaped stems that give a similar appearance to a small fir tree. It is a non-flowering plant that instead reproduces through spores, with each plant bearing either male or female cones. These cones are produced during the months of March and April.

There are various accounts about how the name came into use. The most commonly accepted version is that early Mormon settlers used the beverage as a way to comply with the religion’s rules prohibiting caffeine consumption. Another, more colorful story is that because the tea was believed to prevent syphilis, it was often served in brothels. The drink was allegedly named Mormon’s tea after John Mormon, a frequent patron.

Mormon tea is related to ma huang, or Ephedra sinica, an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for several thousand years. Ma huang contains the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine. These alkaloids have been shown to be an effective treatment for asthma and other bronchial disorders. Ephedrine has strong diuretic and stimulant properties and the alkaloid was used as a weight loss aid. Due to serious health risks ranging from elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate, dietary supplements containing ephedrine have been banned in the United States (US) since 2006.

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not Mormon tea plants actually contain the ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrines found in ma huang. Clinical studies on the effectiveness of the tea have produced no concrete results other than the tea is a mild diuretic. In spite of a long history as a folk remedy, the medicinal benefits of Mormon tea remain anecdotal.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments

By anon998434 — On Jun 11, 2017

Mormon tea has the effects of ephedra. Basically, it is the unprocessed, natural form of Actifed, which anyone over 35 with a massive head cold bitterly regrets the disappearance of, because it was the only thing that actually used to work. Meth fiends ruined that for us when they found a way to turn it into meth. Now we just get to suffer or go comatose with Nyquil instead.

By anon335036 — On May 17, 2013

The tea is used by most Utah Mormons. When I lived in Utah, it was all the craze (1980). I have not had any since I moved back to California, but they do use it in Utah a lot. My family still there uses it all the time. It is a Utah Mormon thing, for sure. I am a Mormon!

By anon319809 — On Feb 14, 2013

I live in St. George, Utah, and I drink Brigham Tea a lot for the health benefits. In fact, my wife is making me some now, which made me think to research it.

I know that Brigham Tea was named after Brigham Young, who advocated its use after finding out the health benefits. The early Mormon settlers learned to use it after the Native Americans told them of all of the benefits of using it.

Since Southern Utah is cut off from the rest of the world, herbal medication was all there was in the old days. By the way, I am Mormon.

By anon242973 — On Jan 25, 2012

You can only get it in the upper rooms of the Temple.

By candyquilt — On Sep 01, 2011

@ddljohn-- Actually, early Mormons did drink Mormon tea, some might still today. You might have heard it as Brigham tea instead, named after Brother Brigham, a Mormon pioneer. Even if you haven't heard of the tea, I'm sure you've heard of Brother Brigham.

I don't think that the early Mormons had this tea all the time. I think it was generally drank for its medicinal purposes just as it is today. So I don't agree when people say that Mormons replaced tea and coffee with Brigham tea. Regular tea and coffee clearly doesn't have the benefits that Brigham tea does.

I know of many non-Mormons who drink it now. Especially bodybuilders drink Brigham tea because it helps them lose weight. I've also heard that it's great for general health and lots of people drink as a dietary supplement or as a treatment.

By fify — On Aug 31, 2011

I had this once on a hunting trip with my roommate from college. We went to his house for the holidays and did some hunting. The Mormon tea plant, which I saw there for the first time was practically growing everywhere. My roommate made some for me to try and it was extremely bitter even though I put a lot of sugar in it and not at all like tea.

The funny thing is, I had a cold at that time- I was coughing a little bit, had a runny, stuffy nose and my sinuses were not doing well wither. I swear, my symptoms disappeared after I had this tea.

It's not something I would want to drink on a daily basis but it's not bad as a medicine.

By ddljohn — On Aug 30, 2011

I'm a Mormon and I've never heard of this tea before. I don't know if it was drank by the first Mormon settlers, but no one in my family or extended family drink this. I don't even know if we could get a hold of this plant even if we wanted to.

So I don't think that Mormon tea has anything to do with Mormons. It's probably just a coincidence.

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