A Cuppa Mormon Tea

I have always had trouble understanding the Word of Wisdom. As it reads in the 89th section of Doctrine and Covenants, observance of the following things are required by God:

  • Strong drinks are not to be consumed, but rather to be used for washing.
  • Tobacco is not for the body or the belly, but is to be used for bruises and sick cattle.
  • Hot drinks are not to be consumed.
  • Herbs and fruit are to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
  • Meat and poultry are to be eaten sparingly, and that only in winter or times of famine.
  • Grains are for both man and beast.

It seems clear enough, but apparently it does not actually mean what it says. Mormons who affirm that they obey the Word of Wisdom do not eat meat only in times of famine, treat their bruises with tobacco, or wash with strong drink.

Furthermore, Mormons do consume hot drinks while still believing that they are in full compliance with the Word of Wisdom. That’s because it’s generally understood that “hot drinks” in the revelation refers specifically to coffee and tea. The LDS web site for non-Mormons says:

“Your body is a precious gift from God. To help keep our bodies and our minds healthy and strong, God gave a law of health to Joseph Smith in 1833. This law is known as the Word of Wisdom…God promises great physical and spiritual blessings to those who follow the Word of Wisdom. Today, the scientific community promotes some of the same principles that a loving God gave to Joseph Smith nearly two centuries ago.”

Therefore, it seems clear that the Word of Wisdom was given primarily for health, to protect God’s people from harmful substances. That’s why an article from yesterday’s Deseret News caught my eye. “Nice cup of ‘Mormon tea’ eased settlers ailments” reports on “the kind of tea early Utah settlers drank.” It came from a broom-like shrub in the Gnetaceae Genus Ephedra family. The article states,

“While it is a source of ephedra, it doesn’t violate the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Word of Wisdom.”


Deseret News states that no negative side effects were noticed when the pioneers were using it, though recently it has become known that extracted ephedra may lead to serious health problems.

In fact, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler’s death in 2003 was tied to ephedra and in April 2004 the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra due to its serious health risks.

So why were Mormons drinking tea made from a plant containing ephedra? Why were they drinking tea at all?

The Deseret News article says,

“Other settlers brewed a strong tea from the plant to treat syphilis and other venereal diseases and as a tonic. Seeds from the plant were ground as bitter meal or used to flavor bread dough.”

Included in the Deseret News report is this list of “known effects”:

  • a stimulus to the central nervous system
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased urine to dispose of excess body fluid
  • elevated mood
  • decreased appetite
  • lessened fatigue

This sounds an awful lot like caffeine to me. And caffeine is usually what Mormons tell me is the harmful component of coffee and tea that prompted that portion of the Word of Wisdom in the first place. (Please note that today’s “scientific community” has found several health benefits related to caffeine. For example, see “Coffee: The New Health Food?“)

As I said, I’ve always had trouble understanding the Word of Wisdom. I don’t get why it was okay for Mormon pioneers to drink ‘Mormon tea.’ I don’t get why it was okay for them to drink tea with ephedra in it. I don’t get why it was okay for them to drink a “hot drink” at all. I don’t get why their behavior did not violate the Word of Wisdom.

LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,

“SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.’ …if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand inn the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:16)

I don’t get it. Do you?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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One Response to A Cuppa Mormon Tea

  1. rick b says:

    Her are some problems I have with the Word of Wisdom.

    The Prophet Spencer Kimball Achieving a Celestial Marriage manual pg 30 makes it very clear we must do certain things to enter the temple to be saved. he gives a list of 6 things called (TEMPLE RECOMMEND INTERVIEW). it says When you are interviewed for a temple recommend you will be asked about,
    1. Church attendance
    2. Payment of tithes and offerings
    3. Loyalty to Church leaders.
    4. Moral cleanliness.
    5. overall faithfulness and worthiness.
    6. Obedience to the Word of Wisdom.

    Notice it says “Obedience to the Word of Wisdom.” Yet Many LDS members do not follow this. Also we read in Gospel Principles pg 125: WE MUST KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD. To make our repentance complete we must keep the commandments of the Lord (see D and C 1:32). we are not fully repentant if we do not pay tithes or keep the sabbath day holy or obey the word of wisdom. we are not repentant if we don’t sustain the authorities of the church and don’t love the lord and our fellow man. Yet again many LDS do not meet this requirement.

    Now read,
    Mat 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

    Mat 19:18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

    Mat 19:19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Mat 19:20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

    Mat 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.

    My point on these verses is this, Jesus told this person, this is a commandment, But it is also scripture. If the WoW was really from God, then this was the perfect time for Jesus to state the Word of Wisdom. He could clear up all confusion. If God in mormon circles is really and truly all knowing and powerful, I would think he would see the confusion to come down the road over the WoW issue and avoid it right here and Now. But Jesus did not, He never brought up any such thing.

    Read Acts 10:9-15, God gave peter a vision stating to kill animals and eat. not once did God say, kill only certain animals or eat them sparingly. God did state all things are clean. Then read Acts 15:24-29 the short of it, is on food, no mention of coffee, tea, alcohol. they state, stay away from things strangled with blood, Not coffee, tea or certain meats. What better time than that to really put forth the WoW if it was really of God.

    We know Jesus drank wine, we know it contained some alcohol because he was accused of being a drunk, (Winebibber). It you only drink grape juice you cannot be called a wine bibber. Jesus also gave the parables of the wine skins, He said you don’t put new wine into old wine skins lest they burst, Notice He said, they would burst. Why would they burst, if it was simply Grape juice? Jesus also said, food and drink are for the body, we can eat whatever we want with thanksgiving. How can God teach and say this, but then later turn around and deny everything he taught, with no reason given?

    Jesus told his disciples, It is not what goes in a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him. I enjoy coffee, I find it truly sad, if I were a mormon I could lose out on exaltation in the 3rd heaven because I must obey a command of man that is not of God, yet this command of man cannot be explain by the group that made it.

    I think it is sad, that Hot drinks does not include Hot Chocolate, or Soup broth. Sad that this needs to be pointed out, but Hot drinks does not say, Coffee or tea. It is just assumed. If the “Real” Reason is caffeine, why cant I simply drink decafe? I know that is still a no-no. I really could Go on in more depth and add much more, If you want to talk more in depth, please contact me at http://www.mormomismreviewed.blogspot.com
    Rick Beaudin.

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