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Ephedra information

Introduction to Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang)

Chinese Ephedra is also known as "Desert Herb" or "Ma Huang". It is a powerful herb, which grows mainly in Mongolia and the bordering regions of China. It has been used in Chinese medicine for at least 5,000 years. Ephedra was found in 60,000-year-old Neolithic gravesites, suggesting its use as a medicinal plant. Zen monks have used preparations of Ephedra to help maintain attention and concentration during long meditation sessions. It is rumored that Ghengis Khan's soldiers used the plant to maintain vigilance during night watches since the penalty for premature sleep was execution. Mormon sects, who are not allowed to drink coffee because of religious conviction, use Ephedra nevadensis as a coffee substitute. 'Mormon tea' stimulates differently, and has more sexual stimulating effects than coffee. Ephedra is therefore used in tantric rites as a sexual stimulant. Occasional, moderate use of Ephedra tea has no toxic effects on humans.

The active ingredients in Ephedra are naturally occurring ephedra alkaloids, the most important one being Ephedrine. Ephedrine is one of the most effective remedies known for the symptoms of asthma, allergies, and sinus problems. Because it has a stimulating effect, many believe that it contains caffeine. The truth is, the herb Ephedra by itself contains no caffeine.

The Chinese employ Ephedra for many uses, including the treatment of asthma and as a natural decongestant and antihistamine. Herbalists in the West have also discovered these benefits and Ephedra has become a popular ingredient in herbal combinations for the respiratory system. Since it also has a thermogenic effect (increases basal metabolic rate, slightly raising body temperature and causing calories to be burned at a faster rate), it has also proven to be an effective aid for weight loss. An added bonus for those who use the herb for weight management is its appetite-suppressing effect. One of the side effects of thermogenesis is a slight increase in pulse rate and an elevation of blood pressure. Ephedra is therefore not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems or hyperthyroidism. It may also cause problems for people with insomnia and for those who suffer from panic attacks.

Many herbal manufacturers spike their Ephedra-containing weight loss products with caffeine. This is often done by adding herbs that contain caffeine, such as Guarana seeds or Cola nuts. Caffeine by itself can elevate blood pressure and cause heart palpitations. When combined with Ephedra this potential is increased. Most health professionals strongly recommend that Ephedra products should not be combined with caffeine.

Ephedra has an excellent safety record considering the large number of people who have used the herb. (To keep our perspective, remember that 20,000 Americans are hospitalized each year from taking aspirin.) Medical research has shown that there are many health risks associated with being even moderately overweight, including heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Obesity (defined as 30 pounds or more over your ideal body weight) is considered a major health problem in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity is an epidemic resulting in 300,000 deaths each year. Considering these medical facts, a risk to benefit analysis of Ephedra will clearly indicate that its potential benefits for weight loss far outweigh its potential to do harm, especially when taken in a prudent manner.

Important facts to consider when selecting and using Ephedra products:

  • Choose an Ephedra product that uses the whole herb, not just the extracted ingredient, Ephedrine. The whole herb contains other ingredients that work synergistically with the naturally occurring Ephedrine, increasing its effectiveness and decreasing its potential for undesirable side effects.


  • When taking prescription drugs or being treated for a health condition, check with your health professional before using Ephedra.


  • Reduce dosage if undesirable side effects occur. Discontinue use entirely if they continue. This includes, but is not limited to, headache, nervousness, sleeplessness, anxiety, nausea, and prostate or urinary problems.


  • Remember that Ephedra works best when taken on an empty stomach. The best time to take it is one hour before meals. Ephedra can also cause nausea in some people when taken with food.


  • To prevent interference with sleep, don't take Ephedra too late in the day.


  • Ephedra should not be used during pregnancy or lactation, or by individuals with high blood pressure or those suffering from blood sugar, thyroid, or prostate problems or with glaucoma. Do not take if currently taking or have recently taken MAO inhibitor drugs. If taking prescription drugs check with your doctor before taking Ephedra.


  • Ephedra should never be taken on a continual basis. It is best to take it for no longer than a month at a time. After a break of a week or two its use can be resumed. Continuous use can cause adrenal exhaustion and the herb can lose its effectiveness.

How much should be taken? The crude powdered stems of Ephedra (with less than 1% Ephedrine) are used at 1.56 grams per day in tea form

Anyone with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, anxiety or restlessness, impaired circulation to the brain, benign prostatic hyperplasia with residual urine accumulation, pheochromocytoma, and those taking MAO-inhibiting antidepressants, digitoxin, or guanethidine should consult with a physician before using any type of product containing Ephedra. Ephedra-based products should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. Certain medications may interact with Ephedra. It is recommended that you discuss the use of Ephedra and your current medication(s) with your doctor or pharmacist.


Mazatec Garden describes the common uses of many herbs. This is for informational purposes only, as we are not advising or prescribing herbs for any specific medical condition or for any specific use. Distribute this information freely.

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