Ephedra (Ephedra sinica)

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Known as Ma Huang, (Ephedra) is a member of the family of herbs known as the Ephedracae. It has been used in China for more than 4000 years to treat symptoms of asthma and upper respiratory infections. Varieties of the plant are also grown in Europe, India, Australia and Afghanistan. American varieties, native to the dry southwest, was used as tea by the early settlers, and was known as "Mormon tea" and "Squaw tea." It has also been used in the treatment of headaches, fevers, colds and hay fever. Today, compounds are commonly found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.

It contains two alkaloids, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine, the main constituent, is a bronchodilator and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. It has valuable antispasmodic properties, acting on the air passages by relieving swellings of the mucous membrane. Pseudoephedrine is a nasal decongestant and has less stimulating effect on the heart and blood pressure. Physicians use these alkaloids to treat bronchial asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, persistent coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath. Mahuang can help the body to break fevers and clear blocked sinuses. The alkaloids are also effective in treating allergic skin reactions such as hives, relieve general body pain and treat low blood pressure, rheumatism and narcolepsy.

Because of its stimulating effect on the nervous system, it can be found in some popular weight loss and energy products. For dieters it suppresses the appetite and stimulates the thyroid gland which stimulates metabolism. Recently mahuang has been the subject of scientific research for obesity because of its thermogenic fat-burning effect on dietary intake. It can cause peripheral vasoconstriction, elevation of blood pressure and cardiac stimulation, and is often combined with other tonic herbs to help counteract these effects.

Mahuang is also found in "energy" products that may give athletes extra energy without draining their reserves. People also indicate an increase in alertness and perception. Similar to the diet formulas, it is often combined with ingredients such as kola nut or guarana which contain caffeine. Concerns over the potency of this herb and its isolated alkaloids have prompted increased regulatory scrutiny and industry label warnings. Contraindications and possible side effects should be listed on the bottle. Contraindications include general weakness, poor digestion, high blood pressure, nervousness, sleeplessness, cardiac arrhythmia's and heart disease. It should not be used if you are pregnant or nursing.

Part Used: Whole plant dried and powdered. Also teas, extracts and decoctions from stems.

Common Use: Ma huang (Ephedra sinica) is a mild engergizing herb that suppresses appetite and promotes thermogenic metabolism and increases perspiration and stimulates the nervous system. It is widely used for upper respiratory tract ailments such as allergies and asthma. Mahuang is also used in many natural cold remedies.


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