Identification: Ephedra is an evergreen shrub growing 2 to 3 feet high with no leaves. Stems are green, smooth, woody, branching, and very jointed. Small yellow-green buds appear in the joints when in bloom. Ephedra Flowers
Other Names: Brigham Tea, Mormon tea, Ephedra, Nevada Joint-fir, American Ma Huang, Mexican tea, Desert Ephedra, Desert tea.
Habitat: Southwestern North America, found growing on dry slopes and hills, sandy plains, canyons, sandy and rocky places, deserts. Ephedra may be found further east in dry areas where it has escaped cultivation. Cultivation requires some effort, prefers light (sandy) dry, acid, soil in sunny position, cannot grow in the shade and not self-fertile, both male and female plants must be grown if seed is desired.
Parts Used: Twigs. Gather stems anytime and dry for later use.
History: Ephedra was found buried in a Middle Eastern neolithic grave, indicating that it was used as a medicine over 60,000 years ago. It is believed that the roots of the plant have the opposite effect of the stems, this is unproven. An infusion of the dried stems has been used in the treatment of venereal diseases. The pulverized or boiled stems were also used for delayed or difficult menstruation or applied externally as a poultice on syphilitic and other sores by some native North American Indians. Ephedra was also used as a ceremonial drug to improve the alertness of the hunter and the wood of the plant is considered the best charcoal for tattooing.
Constituents: Alkaloid ephedrine, methylephedrine, methylpseudoephedrine. Other plant constituents in Ephedra are calcium, phosphorus, protein, flavone, saponin, tannins, and volatile oil.
Medicinal Properties: Anti-viral, antidote, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, blood purifier, diuretic, pectoral, febrifuge, vasodilator, stimulant, and tonic.
Uses: Ephedrine acts quickly to reduce swellings of the mucous membranes, dilates the bronchial vessels and has antispasmodic properties. Because of this scientifically proven action on the respiratory system it is known to have saved many lives, while Ephedra does not cure asthma it is very effective in treating the symptoms and making life somewhat easier for the sufferer. Used for centuries in Chinese medicine Ma Huang or Chinese Ephedra is well known and exported all over the world for use in pharmaceuticals to treat asthma, hay fever, allergic complaints, stimulating the heart and central nervous system, and kidney problems. While the chemical constituents in the American Ephedra plant is said to be less concentrated, it is still used for the same medicinal purposes and said to have fewer side effects.
Caution is advised as an overdose can be fatal, causing high blood pressure, racing of the heart, confusion, nervous stupor, twitching, convolutions and death. Ephedrine is seen as a performance-boosting herb and is a forbidden substance in many sporting events such as athletics. This herb should not be used by people who are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or suffering from high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism or glaucoma. However the bad reputation this herb has received stems from the use or misuse of the synthesized form of its main constituent ephedrine.
Preparations and Dosages: Standard Infusion, as needed. To 1/2 ounce of dried herb add 1 pint boiling water steep for 20 minutes. Strain and sweeten, drink throughout the day for cold and flu or sinusitis.