Mormon Tea

Escalante, Utah is a unique place containing many hoodoos, natural bridges, and immense canyons created by uplifting faults thousands of years ago and shaped

A natural bridge in Bryce Canyon

A natural bridge in Bryce Canyon

through years of erosion.  My time here has shown me Escalante’s rich natural history, beautiful landscapes and habitats, challenging trails, and the beauty of nature in general.  So far, I have learned many new plant species, learned what plants Native Americans and early settlers used for multiple purposes, caught hummingbirds for banding, and collected pollen. I have only been here for a month, but already I have had many opportunities to expand my knowledge as a biologist.

Escalante! 401

Ephedra viridis (Mormon tea) in front of Dance Hall Rock, a natural formation that Mormon’s used as an amphitheater

A few of the important species in the area for wildlife, natives, and early settlers that my partner and I have encountered  include Artemisia tridentata (Big Sagebrush), Purshia tridentata (Antelope Bitterbrush), Ephedra viridis (Mormon tea), and Psoralidium tenuiflorum (Scurf Pea). A. tridentata is considered a keystone species providing food for sage grouse and small mammals (Elmore, 71) and, even though it is rather unpalatable (Buren et al., 171), is still browsed by pronghorn, deer, cattle, and sheep (Elmore, 71). Native Americans and early settlers brewed A. tridentata leaves in tea to ease stomach pains and burned the leaves, creating fumes, which were inhaled to cure colds (Foster & Hobbs, 320). An important winter browsing plant for deer and other wildlife is P. tridentata (Buren et al., 400). Native Americans used the leaves of P. tridentata as a poultice to cure rashes and itching, made tea from the leaves and roots to ease colds, and used the twigs, leaves, and berries as a laxative (Foster & Hobbs, 297).  E. viridis acquired its namesake from early Mormon settlers who would steep the twig-like leaves in hot water, making a tea that is still a common practice today to jump start the day or to cure the common cold (Buren et al., 112).  One plant that my partner and I have had to collect, P. tenuiflorum, was used by natives to cure headaches, constipation, tuberculosis, and to repel mosquitoes (Foster & Hobbs, 212).

A tunnel trap used to catch hummingbirds so the BLM’s wildlife biologist can band them.

A tunnel trap used to catch hummingbirds so the BLM’s wildlife biologist can band them.

Besides learning about the native flora, my partner and I have also had the opportunity to band hummingbirds.  We started the day half an hour before sunrise (6:00 AM) and caught hummingbirds in a net that fit over their feeders.  Once captured and transferred into a small bag, our mentor and another wildlife biologist from the BLM were able to record various measurements on the hummingbirds and we were able feed them and release them.

This internship has allowed me to experience many exciting biological procedures, learn new plant species, and meet biologists who share similar interests with me.  I have made a hiking buddy out of my fellow intern, and together, we have explored many of the trails Escalante has to offer.  Even though we have yet to collect our seed collections, we are broadening our horizons through the BLM and are gaining multiple skills that will send us on way to become future biologists.





Buren, Renee Van et al. (2011). Woody Plants of Utah. Logan, Utah. Utah State University Press.

Elmore, Francis H.. (1976).Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Uplands. Tuscan, Arizona. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association.

Foster, Steven & Hobbs, Christopher. 2002. Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. New York, New York, Houghton Mifflin Company.


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