So what if I’m as visually attractive as dead sticks.
There are those who would die just to take me in,
To have me in their backyard, a tonic for the soul.
All I can say to you is “Drink me. Take me into your
Life and let me heal you, let me comfort you, let me
Take care of that thirst you’ve never mentioned aloud.”
Open desert, slopes, hills, and cliffs.
If this plant were a schoolchild, it would earn points for always sitting up straight. Its many jointed, parallel stems shoot upright from the desert, and their bright green can be the only such color in a rocky expanse. Grows in broomlike bunches, sometimes several feet in diameter, and from two to ten feet high. Its diminutive leaves look like scales.
Its various common names suggest its primary use to humans: to make tea. “Brigham’s tea,” “Mormon tea” (both indicating its value to settlers of that faith), and “Green Indian tea” (the Mormons weren’t the first to brew it up). The stems and tiny yellow flowers were steeped into a drink that helped to treat syphilis, coughs, and other ailments. The plant has both ephedrine and caffeine in it. Ephedras inspired pseudoephedrine, used for allergy and cold medicines and for illegal methamphetamine. Some Native Americans roast the seeds for food. This family may be related to junipers and pines, which is embodied in another of its names, “joint fir.”
“Brigham’s Tea” by Gary Paul Nabhan from The Sonoran Desert, A Literary Field Guide edited by Eric Magrane, Christopher Cokinos, and Paul Mirocha. © 2016 the Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.