The Chinese herb Ma Huang looks like thin, branching, connected straws. A related species, Ephedra nevadensis, grows wild in the American Southwest and is widely called "Mormon tea." However, only the Asian species of ephedra contains the active compounds ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Japanese chemists isolated ephedrine from ma huang at the turn of the century, and it soon became a primary treatment for asthma in the United States and abroad. Ephedra's other major ingredient, pseudoephedrine, became the decongestant Sudafed.
Herbal Category: Warm, Release the Exterior
Actions & Indications
Ma huang was traditionally used by Chinese herbalists during the early stages of respiratory infections and also for the short-term treatment of certain kinds of asthma, eczema, hay fever, narcolepsy, and edema.
Releases the Exterior and Disperses Wind-Cold
Stops Wheezing and Asthma
Reduces Edema and Promotes Urination
In Decoctions: 3-9 Grams. Cook first and remove foam from the surface of decoction before adding other ingredients. Use raw for exterior conditions, coat with honey to treat athma.
The dosage of ephedra should be adjusted according to the amount of the ephedrine it provides. For adults, no more than 25 mg should be taken at one time, and a total daily intake of 100 mg should not be exceeded.
Long-term use or overuse of this herb may cause heavy sweating that weakens the body. Toasting with honey reduces this dispersing property.
While it is possible for healthy individuals under physician supervision to use ephedrine or ephedrine/caffeine combinations safely, in individuals with heart disease, and even, occasionally, in those with no known heart conditions, ephedrine can cause serious disturbances of the heart rhythm, and possibly sudden death; strokes have also occurred.
May also raise blood pressure, do not use if individual has insomnia, spontaneous sweating, high blood pressure, or cardiac arrhythmias.
If you are taking MAO inhibitors, do not take ephedra. If you are taking any stimulant drugs (including caffeine), do not take ephedra except under physician supervision.
Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993.