Monday, April 20, 2009

Mormon Tea: another thought

So a while ago I wrote a couple of thoughts about the supposed "Mormon Tea" Ephedra varietals, and hinted that it was perhaps not used during the pioneer era, i.e. pre-1870. Further research is tending to corroborate this conclusion.

First, the OED puts a time stamp of 1910 on the label. Even if we assume a significant lag on its coinage to publication, the likelihood of pioneer era usage is a stretch. Further, botanical notes on the indigenous species note that while e. nevadensis and other varieties are native to the desert regions of the West, generally they show up at lower altitudes, vis a vis the deserts of the four corners region. In previous entries we noted that circa 1870 St. George, the common tea was a mixture of cayenne, cloves, bayberry, and other herbals. The wild ephedra at question was not in the mix.

When we consider that colonization to points further south and at lower elevation occurred in the late 19th century, the dovetailing of the "mormon tea" with the southern colonies begins to hint that this ephedra tea was likely a product of a later era and not part of the lore of Brigham Young's time. The more common tea of the pioneer era is described by Brigham's daughter Clarissa Young as follows:

"4 oz. each of bayberry, poplar bark and hemlock; 2 oz. each of ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon; and 1 ounce of cayenne pepper... take a small bit on the end of a spoon, fill the cup with hot water, and use plenty of cream and sugar."

Until I find a better citation, I think this is the most likely "mormon tea" for the pioneer era. That being said, there was also a significant amount of Earl Grey and other traditional English varieties as well as coffee sold by retail grocers during the era. It seems this cayenne tea was more a medicinal than a drink for pleasure in common consumption. Further, as per our previous discussion of old world/new world, research is showing that Brits stuck with tea, while Danes held stubbornly to coffee. So there's a recipe for ya!

p.s. the hemlock referenced is not the poisionous kind that makes you think of Socrates and Hamlet. Herbal shops carry a powdered hemlock bark suited to this composition.