On the Dry Side

I am blogging about something from the East Slope of the Sierra Nevada, where it is very dry indeed most of the time, because if it doesn't stop raining here soon I swear I am going to open both my radial arteries with my teeth, and not care about the bits of flesh caught in the braces.

It's raining again and I can't get out and take photos for the Daily Planet column and get that out of the way and the yard is a soup of stinking gluey mud and I'm tired of being wet and cold and feeling mildewed about the crevices.

So here's this shrub that grows in dry places of the West, like Utah and eastern California and as close to me as Panoche Pass (more or less inland from Monterey). It's one of several Ephedra species, related to the Ephedra sinica that they make ta-da! ephedrine out of. The American species aren't nearly so strong in their effect, thank heaven. First and last time I tried ma huang tea in its recommended dosage I thought I was gonna die.

In this, the shrub in question is growing on a slope with pinyon pine (background, with bluish needles) and sagebrush (foreground, silvery) and some grasses (dried and yellow) that could be native or exotic, I don't know. There'a a juniper up the slope, too, the darker green thing among the pinyons. The yellow flowers might be a sparse individual of rabbitbrush; I'm not certain and don't remember, but the stuff blooms for a long season.

m.t. and pinyons

This was our second hasty pulloff on the road back from the ghost-town state park, Bodie, to the highway. The first one gave us a long look at a mob of pinyon jays and several red-shafted flickers, all flying back and forth on a similar slope and over our heads from the flat behind us and out of sight over the hill before us and back along the slope again, hollering encouragement or gossip or whatever their different jeering calls mean to each other the whole time.

We pulled off the second time because I wanted to rob the bush. I had pruning shears; we were off park property; and I wanted some fresh greens from it, because this stuff maked a very nice tea when you simmer a handful of the twigs in a pot (nonreactive) of water until it turns kind-of orange. It has a subtle smoky flavor and takes well to a squeeze of orange juice for sweetening.

Here's a closeup of the foliage:

m.t. closeup

It's rough like horsetail stalks, but not related; it's a flowering plant. It's also called “joint fir” (see the brown knuckles?), “Mormon tea,” and by the determinedly PI, “squaw tea.”

I took maybe a broom's-worth of it, but I defy anyone to point out the cuts on the actual bush I robbed. (OK, make that “even five minutes later.” The scene in the photo is probably under snow now, even in the Sierran rainshadow, the dry side.) And, as I am a moderately skilled pruner, I also know I didn't harm the plant. I do like having that skill.