On January 20, 2009, Bob Montanez wrote the following in a letter to the editor of the Ogden Standard-Examiner:
"Brigham Young banned the use of caffeine, alcohol and stimulants, but approved drinking "Mormon Tea" as a beverage. This is also used for bronchial and cold medication made from the ephedra plant, stronger than caffeine or any stimulant. Ephedrine is the main ingredient used with precursors, making it 35 times stronger to make methamphetamine or illegal street drugs better known as "meth", "speed", "ice" or "go fast." These are some of the most dangerous illegal drugs in use by addicts today. Ephedrine, known as "whites," can be purchased in truck stops to keep drivers awake. This drug is in full view of children. The ephedra plant grows wild in southern Utah."
His rant was aimed at demonstrating the silliness of the "Zion Curtain" portion of Utah's liquor laws, but that is beside the point. The thing we're concerned with is the validity of this claim that: 1) Brigham Young specifically ordained and advocated the use of the ephedra plant; and 2) wild native ephedra has medicinal properties.
I've been chasing after this elusive goal for quite some time, and I have yet to find any primary source (Brigham Young, or otherwise) identifying tea made from the ephedra plant that grows indigenous to Utah. I have found several other primary sources which show that Brigham Young and many other pioneer settlers drank a sort of tea made from herbs and spices, carrying the name of either "composition tea" or "hot pepper tea." One source called this tea insipid, and another called it the "Mormon Highball." I have found plenty of references to this tea (and also recipes), but not a single reference to the ephedra to which Bob Montanez alludes.
In the LDS Historical Archives in Salt Lake City, there are a couple of extracts from journal articles from the 1970s that call the native ephedra plant "mormon tea" but this appears to be an attribution of the latter half of the twentieth century.
As for Bob's claim that you can get seriously hopped up by drinking ephedra tea-- I imagine there is a great difference between a pharmaceudical grade of ephedra, and tea made from wild plants. Further, my preliminary research shows that although there are some physical commonalities between the appearance of Utah's native ephedra and that of the Chinese medicinal variety, Utah's version has been lab tested to show that it holds no medicinal value. Although the Utah and Chinese plants share the same genus, the medicinal properties are separated in the species and varietals.
If anyone thinks they can cite a primary source for Mormons using native ephedra during Brigham Young's lifetime, I would greatly appreciate the information. But my money is bet on the more likely prospect that it just didn't happen. So next time, I'll tell you all about "Composition Tea." Until then, cast a dubious eye on people like Bob who claim some historical understanding, but fail to cite their primary sources. Why, I could just as easily claim that Brigham Young thought Adam was God! Wait a minute... I think I might have a source on that somewhere... be right back...