Other Common Names:
The other common names for the shrub ephedra are Desert Tea, Ma Huang, Mormon Tea, Squaw Tea, Brigham Tea, American Ephedra, Nevada Joint-Fir, American Ma Huang, Mexican Tea and Desert Ephedra.
The Chinese have used ephedra medicinally for over 5,000 years. Ephedra is listed as one of the original 365 herbs from the classical first century A.D. text on Chinese herbalism by Shen Nong.The ephedra - ma huang in the Chinese system of medicine - is a plant which is valued as an herbal remedy.
The plant's principal alkaloid compound ephedrine and various other derivatives of the plant saw substantial use in the western system of medicine early on, and it may be one of the first Chinese herbal remedies to do so. The Ephedra plant has a pine-like odor and is also known as the "Joint Fir" or "Joint Pine". It was also marketed to adolescents as a mood-altering "herbal Ecstacy" and to athletes to improve performance. In 2005 use of ephedra-containing supplements in the United States was banned.
The ephedra plant is a perennial evergreen that stands, on average, one foot high but may grow up to four feet. Nearly leafless, the plant has slender, cylindrical, yellow-green branches and underground runners. In August, the flowers bear poisonous, fleshy red cones resembling berries. It is in leaf all year, in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from August to September. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
Ephedra originates in West Central China, Southern Siberia, and Japan. Varieties of the herb are also grown in Europe, India, Australia and Afghanistan.
Ephedra grows on the tundra and on the rocky and sandy slopes of Europe, Asia, and America. The plant prefers light sandy and medium loamy soils and requires well-drained soil. It requires dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.
The Ephedra is robust and doesn't need much attention. Plant the seeds around 20�C (68�F). Grow indoors or in a warm and dry climate, free of frost. It thrives in ordinary loamy soil and does very well in a loose rocky soil with full sun and a little water. It is most often propagated by division of the clumps in spring, and seeds sown in a light sandy soil in early spring. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on for at least their first winter in a greenhouse. Plant out in the spring or early summer after the last expected frosts and give some protection in their first winter. The tops of the branches may be picked and dried at any time as long as the plant is not denuded or the branches cut back past the viable buds. To produce seeds masculine as well as feminine plants are needed.
The flowers of the plant ephedra are in bloom between May through June.
Pests and Diseases
No serious pests or diseases are reported. Leaf spots and powdery mildew are occasionally encountered. Pests at times include aphids which may be the vector for transmitting mosaic virus.
The young stems and branchlets of
ephedra are the most commonly used parts
of the plant for its medicinal
and commercial applications.
• Ephedra is primarily used to treat asthma or bronchitis, ephedra is also prescribed for symptoms of cold and flu including nasal congestion, cough, fever, and chills.
• Ephedra's traditional medicinal uses include the alleviation of sweating, lung and bronchial constriction, and water retention.
• The alkaloids are also effective in treating allergic skin reactions such as hives, relieving general body pain, and treating low blood pressure, rheumatism, and narcolepsy.
• Coughing, shortness of breath, the common cold, and fevers without sweat are all indications for its use.
• Ephedrine and its synthetic counterparts stimulate the central nervous system, dilate the bronchial tubes, elevate blood pressure, and increase heart rate.
• The plant also has antiviral effects, particularly against influenza.
• The stems are also antidote, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral, vasoconstrictor and vasodilator.
• It can be used in the treatment of emphysema, in treating whooping cough, and in treating many other severe chest conditions affecting children and adults.
• Ephedra had been sold commercially as an energy-booster, weight-loss supplement, and athletic performance enhancer.