Tea has been known in China since about 2700 BC. Tea was initially used strictly as a medicinal beverage obtained by boiling fresh leaves in water, but around the 300 AD it became a daily drink, and tea cultivation and processing of Chinese tea began.
But tea beverages have been drunk by most of the world’s cultures for millennia. Many of these were herbal teas, using a wide variety of native plant leaves, roots and stems steeped in boiling water.
There are, likewise, many desert plants, which have been used for centuries by Native Americans to brew tea. As in the Far East, they were primarily used for medicinal purposes rather than as a daily beverage. Below is a sample of some of the more common desert plants used for brewing tea.
Place a sprig of Creosote leaves and flowers in a cup. Add boiling water, cover and steep 5 to 10 minutes (depending on strength desired), then strain. You may want to sweeten this strong, aromatic tea with honey.
Creosote bush is the dominant shrub over most of the southwestern deserts. California’s Cahuilla Indians brewed Creosote tea to relieve coughs, colds, flu, infections and bowel complaints. They also covered their heads with a blanket and inhaled the steam of creosote leaves in a boiling pot of water to relieve congestion.
Place several Sagebrush leaves (preferably from a small plant) in a cup. Add boiling water, cover and steep 5 minutes. Strain, sweeten and serve. Native Americans regarded this bitter tea useful to promote sweating and to aid in digestion. Many prefer honey or lemon for flavoring. Note that the many species of Sagebrush are not really a sage, but are an annual evergreen shrub. All are aromatic.
Mormon Tea, Desert Tea, Squaw Tea
In a boiling pot of water, place a small handful of green or brown Ephedra twigs for each cup desired. Cover and steep 20 minutes. Strain and drink. There are many species of Ephedras in the Desert Southwest, but all make a tasty, energizing tea. Southwestern Indians and European desert travelers have long brewed Mormon tea or chewed the twigs to quench thirst and boost energy. Mormon tea is considered a general tonic for stomach ailments and kidney disorders.
Note: Those who are sensitive to caffeine should probably avoid this tea. The drug ephedrine is obtained from a Chinese species of Ephedra.
Among the 3 species of mesquites in the desert, Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) is most preferred for brewing tea. Place 8 or 9 green or dry yellow twigs in a cup. Fill with boiling water, cover and steep 20 minutes. Or boil 24 seed pods in a pot for one hour. This sweet, mild tea has a vanilla-like flavor. It was used by Native Americans to treat diarrhea and stomach ulcers.
(Salvia apiana / mellifera)
Bruise one leaf of either white or black sage, place in a cup and add boiling water. Cover and steep 5 minutes; strain, sweeten and serve. Native Americans used Sage Tea as a gargle for sore throats and to aid digestion. It was also used topically as a disinfectant. Note that White Sage is much stronger than Black Sage, which may require moderation.
WARNING: Many native and cultivated plants are extremely toxic and can result in severe illness, or even death if ingested. Never ingest any portion of any plant unless you are absolutely certain about its identity and harmlessness.