Ephedra viridis

Alexis authored today’s entry:

Eric Hunt (Eric in SF@Flickr) submitted his two photos of green ephedra (photo 1 | photo 2) taken in the Alabama Hills of California. Thanks for sharing, Eric!

Ephedra viridis, commonly called green ephedra or green joint-fir, is an erect shrub growing to approximately 1.2m (4ft) in height. The species is found in the western US states of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Ephedra species belong to the Gnetophyta, a taxonomic division of plants (compare with Pinophyta, the conifers, or Magnoliophyta, the flowering plants). As the Gnetophyta have some characteristics that are found in one or the other of Pinophyta and Magnoliophyta, some hypotheses suggest the group is an evolutionary link between conifers and flowering plants.

This dioecious species is both resistant to drought and winter-hardy. Because the stems can still be found sticking up through layers of snow, it is an important food source for large game animals in the winter. Often found growing on limestone, green ephedra is adapted to dry, rocky, open sites where the soils are coarse and very well-drained.

Traditionally, North American First Nations used the stems of Ephedra viridis to make beverages, including a medicinal tea for the treatment of back pain. Furthermore, the seeds could be brewed to make a coffee-like beverage, or ground to make flour. Ephedra species are sometimes known as Mormon tea; early Mormon settlers reportedly drank beverages made from Ephedra in the place of regular coffee or tea.

Ephedra viridis
Ephedra viridis

19 responses to “Ephedra viridis”

  1. Guy Webb

    Can someone please identify the golden colored lichen on the boulder behind the Ephedra viridis?

  2. DianeC

    Is Ephedra invasive? How does it spread?

  3. phillip

    ..”U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the FDA’s ban of ephedra in 2006″
    “in 2000, found a number of cases of sudden cardiac death or severe disability resulting from ephedra use, many of which occurred in young adults using ephedra in the labeled dosages.”
    ..Speed..Kills..

  4. Eric in SF

    I think the artificially concentrated version of ephedra that was banned by the FDA are very different from Mormon Tea.
    Here are the male cones, taken on the same trip but photographed at Walnut Canyon National Monument, outside Flagstaff:

  5. yomogi

    I love how you write the plant uses everytime! I always look out for this information as I am secretly an ethno-botanist on the inside and love to know what plants are edible.
    Great work!

  6. Michael Aman

    In August 2002 my son was taking a weight-loss product that Howard Sterns advertised as “all natural and 100% safe.” It contained ephedra. My son was 6’3″ and weighed 185 pounds, but he wanted to lose five vanity pounds before his annual physical. In late September he was in a half-marathon benefit run. Ephedra in the system combined with extreme physical exertion is now known to cause sudden irreversible deadly arrhythmias. My son was only 38 when he died of ephedra at the 12-mile mark on the half-marathon.

  7. Bugscuttle

    I wonder how the herb can be sold when Ephedra is banned here in the US?
    I am always eager to see plants like this featured. I’m a Herbal student, and sometimes I have a hard time finding good pics of non-local plants.
    So thank you for the voodoo you do
    so well!

  8. John Clagett

    This is my first entry on Botany Photo of the Day. Daily, your sight has interesting and useful information. Carry on, good show.

  9. Carol L.

    My great grandfather used the native Ephedra as a tea to keep his system “regular”. The family remembers it as ” Grandpa’s pink tea.” It is also used by the Navajo weavers to make a pinkish gold dye for their wool. The ephedra used in weight loss pills and for supplements comes from China and has been banned in the U.S. Herbs can have powerful effects on the body and should always be used with caution.

  10. Bonnie

    I also like to read of the uses. After a night of back pain I wish I had some. Whoops, cardiac arrest, I’ll stick to traditional medication.

  11. Eric in SF

    OK, my first reply got trapped in the spam filter so I’ll make another without the image link.
    I’m pretty sure that the product that the US FDA banned is a mechanically produced and highly concentrated extract from the plant.
    I’m not suggesting that people go out and make Mormon Tea. Instead, think about the entire situation over a long period of time. If Mormom Tea were as dangerous as modern, factory-produced and concentrated ephedra, would the literature not reflect that?

  12. R. 'Stick' Ware

    Known as má huáng (麻黃) in traditional Chinese medicine, this plant is widely used for the treatment of asthma and hay fever, as well as for the common cold. It contains pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in over the counter antihistamines (Sudafed, etc.). As it can be used to synthesize the street drug methamphetamine, US pharmacies now limit sales to small quantities with signature required.

  13. David Hollombe

    The cause of the problem with commercial Ephedra is ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Many Old World Ephedra spp. contain up to 0.5% . None of the American species contain those compounds. The active compound in E. viridis is 6-hydroxy kynurenic acid. (Caveney et al., Secondary chemistry of world Ephedra, merican Journal of Botany, July 2001)

  14. Megan

    I don’t think that Mormon Tea would be as dangerous as the modern, factory-produced and concentrated ephedra preparations – according to the Gymnosperm Database page on Ephedra, only the Old World species contain ephedrine. (Reference here.) It could still have non-ephedrine substances in it, but ephedrine is what makes the commercial ephedra preparations dangerous

  15. Daniel Mosquin

    Wow, sorry to all for the comments caught in the spam filter — 8 comments in the past 13 hours on this entry! It’s because of spammers who attempt to market these products, so many of the comments contain keywords that the spam filter triggers on.
    I’ll try to monitor more closely, but won’t be around much this weekend.

  16. Irma in Sweden

    Too many people believe that because it is from a plant or herb that is non-toxic and therefore a good cure.
    For example the conction that Socrates drank consisted mainly of hemlock Conium maculatum which is described as follows:
    Old-time witch- and poison killer plant. The whole plant is highly toxic, can kill!

  17. Eric Simpson

    A bit of synchronicity: I picked up some pseudoephedrine at the pharmacy yesterday, and related to the cashier the fact that Ephedra grows wild all over the drier areas of CA, and that I hoped that the meth-producers never found out.

  18. Alexis Kho

    DianeC, I have not yet come across anything to suggest Ephedra viridis is invasive, so perhaps it is not a species of concern. The species is dioecious and is wind-pollinated: http://www.fs.fed.us/global/iitf/pdf/shrubs/Ephedra%20viridis.pdf

  19. Ro

    My family and I have drank Squaw Tea all of our lives and have never had any issues. My grandma who is in her 80’s still drinks it. I’ve taken it to work and have given it to other people to drink and they haven’t had any problems. It doesn’t make you feel funny or speedy. It does work great for colds and my grandma has always told me, it will make you live long and that it is good for your blood. We make a trip once a year to the high desert in CA/NV to pick it. There are other plants that look the same so you have to know what your picking. It then needs to be washed and put in a cotton bag to dried in the shade.

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