Ephedra (Ma Huang)
Latin: Ephedra sinica
Taste/Energetics: Slightly bitter, pungent, warming, drying
Properties: Diuretic, diaphoretic, expectorant, stimulant, astringent
Actions: This is an herb that that was made illegal in the States in 2004 due to the potential for overstimulation and cardiac arrest in rare cases. There are a couple native North American species known as Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis and nevadensis) that have some of the same stimulating properties though nowhere near as strong. Herbalist Michael Moore wrote about Mormon tea: “Generally, although the tea contains no ephedrine alkaloid, the potent adrenaline-mimic used for asthma, it contains discrete relatives of the drug.” The Asian Ephedra sinica contains the potent alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that one finds in cold medicine and as precursor agents for making methamphetamine.
As a medicinal agent, it has often been used to help induce a sweat and to allay a cold and can be a good agent to stimulate the bronchial passages when there is a nasty respiratory illness with repeated coughing or to help eliminate an asthma attack. Its diuretic effect makes it useful for those with edema or difficulty with urination. Because of its potent effect and because of our irrational fear of any type of plant that has a strong effect we have banned it. (No problem with selling really potent and potentially lethal over the counter pain relievers and cold medicine though). Sadly, we were starting to put it into weight loss supplements and add it to caffeine pills for super-charged energy pills. Still good medicine if used appropriately.
Dosage: Traditionally 2-4 tsp in standard decoction, generally taken with other herbs to help soften and harmonize its influence.
Contraindications: Pregnancy. Anyone with cardiac issues, hypertension, anxiety, insomnia.