This extraordinary herb costs up to fifty dollars a pound in health food stores, yet it is found in abundance on the desert floor of the Southwest. It was a basic remedy in the medicine chests of Southwestern Native Americans, Spanish-speaking peoples, and pioneers. For thousand of years, the people of China and India have revered this species for its numerous medical properties. It is called by many local names across the West: Mormon Tea, Stickweed, Canutillo, Popotillo, Cowboy Tea, Joint-Fir, Squaw Tea, Horsetail, and Whorehouse Tea. For you sticklers and Latin buffs, the scientific name is Ephedra nevadensis.

It is an unusual stick-looking sort of plant, with no apparent leaves, but rather looks like long, green-jointed tooth-picks radiating from scaly-gray or reddish-brown stems, or as one of the local names suggests; a yard-high, bushy-green horsetail stuck in the ground. Some livestock will eat it in a drought, but outside of that and holding soil to the earth; it seems to have no use. Looks can be very deceiving. What a plant! What a medical herb! I use it daily as a morning beverage and during the day as a pick-me-up. It has more gitty-up-go than coffee and tastes great with a dollop of honey. In past years during the allergy season, I habitually used over-the-counter decongestant pills and nose sprays. Since introducing Ephedra into my daily regimen, I rarely have to use them. This herb really dries up runny sinuses and congestion. Native Ephedra nevadensis, contains a chemical, pseudo-ephedrine. The same substance that is found in many decongestants. (Ex: Sudafed) Pseudo-ephedrine is a strong central nervous system stimulant, opens bronchial passages and stimulates the metabolic rate. As an added effect, the pseudo-ephedrine coupled with other synergistic elements in Ephedra has been found to promote weight loss due to thermogenic and anorectic properties. Plainly put, itís a fat-burner and reduces the desire for food. Other chemical compounds of the plant make it effective in reducing fevers, relieving coughing, pain, and inflammatory conditions. A partner of mine swears, and a scientific study conclusively shows, Ephedra helps smokers quit by decreasing tobacco cravings. It also causes uterine contractions in women, helping promote menstruation. It even makes an excellent solution for tanning hides to a light-yellow color.

I use a strong tea made by simmering one heaping tablespoon of Ephedra in a cup of water for 15 minutes. I also make a tincture by soaking the chopped-up plant in equal parts of cheap vodka, Everclear, or white vinegar until the color is removed from the stems. A teaspoon of this hairy-tasting potion keeps my sinuses dry and energy level up. If you are going to give either of these methods a try, start with a small portion and work up to a dose you feel is right for your body.

Ephedra can be picked any season, but donít pick plants growing along side the highway. (Itís not healthy to drink automotive emissions.) Gather by cutting clumps of the green stems from the main branches. Donít take the entire plant! Leave the main branches, root, and plenty of green stems so it may survive and reproduce. After harvesting, hang the herb upside-down in a shaded, protected location until dry. Process by chopping the green stems into pieces about one inch long. The older gray or reddish-brown stems are useless. Store in a brown paper bag in a dark place. It will keep for a year.

The uses and lore of this considerable plant are worthy of several pages, but to the point; for those who want increased strength, dry sinuses, endurance, alertness, smoking cessation, and weight loss: this homely plant may be a great help. Although no plant performs the same for every person, Ephedra has a record of success with most that have used it.