joint fir, Ma Huang (Chinese);
desert tea, Mormon tea, whorehouse tea
Description: An evergreen
shrub growing to 20 inches.
It is an odd-looking,
botanically primitive, almost leafless shrub that resembles
It has tough, jointed,
barkless stems and branches, with small scale-like leaves
and tiny yellow-green flowers that appear in summer.
Male and female flowers
appear on different plants.
Seeds develop in cones.
Cultivation: It is
propagated from seed in autumn or by root division in autumn
or spring and needs well-drained soil.
The stems are gathered
throughout the year and dried.
Grow in full sun and give
water sparingly as these plants will not tolerate
overwatering. Prefers a well drained, porous, rocky soil.
Ephedra was found in a
Middle Eastern Neolithic grave, indicating that it may heave
been used as a medicine 60,000 years ago.
According to legend the
bodyguards of Genghis Khan, threatened with beheading if
they fell asleep on sentry duty, used to take a tea
containing ephedra to stay alert. The Indian variety,
is thought to have been the prime ingredient of
a potent tonic and elixir of
When the Mormons reached Utah in 1847, local Indians introduced them
to Native American ephedra, a piney-tasting tonic beverage.
The Mormons adopted it as
a substitute for coffee and tea and around the West it
became known as Mormon tea.
Make sure any ephedra you
purchase is identified by species.
has the greatest decongestant/bronchodilator potential.
In the Old West, American
ephedra also developed a reputation as a cure for syphilis
It was served at many
brothels, where the name whorehouse tea came from and the
Latin name for one species:
However, in reality
there’s no effect whatsoever on any venereal diseases.
protoalkaloids (ephedrine, psuedoephedrine); tannins;
saponin; flavone, volatile oil
bronchial dilator; diuretic; stimulant; TCM: disperses cold;
helps problems cause by “external cold”; aids movement of
Chinese ephedra contains
significant amounts of ephedrine.
The American species is
richer in norpseudoephedrine.
Energetics: Twigs are
pungent, bitter and warm.
The root is pungent and
Medicinal Uses: Ephedra’s
active constituents are strong central nervous system
stimulants, more powerful than caffeine but less potent than
Ephedrine itself opens the
bronchial passages, thus acting as a bronchodilator,
stimulates the heart, and increases blood pressure,
metabolic rate, and perspiration and urine production.
It also reduces the
secretion of both saliva and stomach acids.
Traditional Zen monks used
ephedra to promote calm concentration during meditation.
ephedra is popular for chills and fevers, coughs and
wheezing, and in combination with rehmannia is given to
treat kidney yin deficiency.
For asthma use with
almond; for “wind-cold” injury use with cinnamon; for
allergic skin reaction use with mint and cicada moltings.
Ephedra is used
principally in current Western herbal medicine as a
treatment for asthma and hay fever, and for the acute onset
of colds and flu.
It also helps to raise
blood pressure, cool fevers, and alleviate rheumatism.
The whole plant contains
many compounds—some active, some inert, which in combination
seem to act synergistically. The whole plant can be used at
a much lower dosage than isolated constituents and it has
significant therapeutic effects, including dilating the
bronchial airways and increasing blood flow to the skin.
Unlike ephedrine, the
whole plant rarely gives rise to side effects.
One study shows ephedrine
helps smokers quit by decreasing cigarette cravings.
Ephedrine causes uterine
contractions in laboratory animals.
Pregnant women should not
Other women may try it to
REMEDIES: Decoction is prescribed
by herbalists for asthma
Powder is used by the Chinese to
treat kidney energy deficiency
of the twigs is used in treatments to alleviate the aches
and pains of rheumatism, asthma, hay fever, or severe
Combined with cowslip root
and thyme tinctures for bronchial asthma, emphysema,
whooping cough and other severe chest conditions.
Recommended dose up to 1
ml three times a day.
of twigs is prescribed for common colds, coughs, asthma, and
Mix 1 tsp of dried ma
huang per cup of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for
Drink up to 2 cups a day.
Decoction of the root is used by
the Chinese where yin or qi weakness leads to uncontrolled
Toxicity: Not to be used
by patients taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors as
Should be avoided in more
severe cases of glaucoma, hypertension, and coronary
Uses: Herbe of Mars;
Element: Fire; Gender: Male; Sign: Aries.
Ephedra is considered “the
original source of life” among the Chinese due to its
stimulant properties and effect upon breathing.
Work with this herbe when
studying the nature of elemental spirit, the fifth element,
which can be absorbed from the Universe through disciplined
breathing exercises such as those learned through yoga.
A Compendium of Herbal Magick,
Publishing, 1998; ISBN: 0-919345-45-X
The Complete Medicinal Herbal,
Penelope Ody, Dorling
Kindersley, 1993; ISBN: 1-56458-187-X
of Medicinal Plants, Andrew Chevallier, Dorling
Kindersley, 1997; ISBN: 0-7894-1067-2
Herbs, Michael Castleman, Rodale,
1991; ISBN 0-87857-934-6
brought to you by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network, PO
Box 245, Silver Spring, PA 17575-0245;
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URL: http://www.herbalpedia.com Editor: Maureen
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