Ephedra or Ma huang

Ephedra sinica, E. girardiana, E. equisatina, E. dystachia

Origin - China, India, Middle East

Part of the plant used - Herb, stems, leaves (over-ground parts)

Edible Parts Ephedra, or ma huang, is a perennial herb belonging to the gymnosperms. The plant is made up of slender aerial green stems with small vestigial leaves. The green stems of various Ephedra species, particularly E. sinica, and E. equisetina, have been used in China for the treatment of bronchial asthma and related conditions for more than 5000 years. The herb produces bronchodilation, vasoconstriction, and tends to reduce bronchial edema. The alkaloid Ephedrine was isolated from Ephedra sp. in 1887, and was rapidly acknowledged for it use as a nasal decongestant, a central nervous system stimulant, and a treatment for bronchial asthma.

Pharmacology - Ephedra is a source of ephedrine, an alkaloid similar to adrenaline in its ability to excite the sympathetic nervous system. Ephedrine was used earlier in the century as a cure for asthma since it relaxes airways. But the isolated drug fell into disfavor when it was found to raise blood pressure. The controversy surrounded the plant Ephedra is due to the potent central nervous system stimulating properties of ephedrine. It is known to cause an increase in blood pressure, and may cause nervousness, dizziness, headache, insomnia, palpitations and vomiting. However, the whole herb also contains other alkaloids including pseudoephedrine (ephedradines and pseudo-ephedrine lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate while still relaxing smooth muscle and opening the respiratory system), which actually decreases blood pressure, and moderates the activity of the stimulating alkaloids. Indeed, all varieties of North American Ephedra contain no alkaloids at all, and are medicinally inert.

Medicinal Uses - Ephedra has been used in China and Europe to treat asthma, hayfever, allergies, and arthritis, to break fevers, clear blocked sinuses, raise blood pressure and increase alertness and perception. Ephedra is a stimulant of the sympathetic nervous system which controls the "fight or flight" response of the body.

Historical Uses:

Toxicity, Cautions & Contra-indications - Contraindicated at high or medium elevated blood pressure should not be taken together with other CNS stimulants or circulatory agents (digitoxin, beta-blockers, etc.). A single high dose could result in irregular heart beats.

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