Ephedra sinica - as used in Herbal Medicine
Ephedra, also known as Ma huang, Desert Tea or Joint Fir is a very strong stimulant herb used for treating asthma and allergic reactions commonly the result of hay fever. in Chinese medicine has long been recognized in treating asthma and hay fever. However, now herbalists advocate using the whole plant because the tissue contains other alkaloids, including pseudo ephedrine, which can help offset the negative effects of Ephedra by decreasing both heart rate and blood pressure.
The Chinese have used Ma Juang medicinally for over 5,000 years. It was first documented in Traditional Chinese Medicine as early as 475 BC. Remains of the plant were found in a Middle Eastern Neolithic grave, indicating its use as a medicine 60,000 years ago.
According to legend, the bodyguards of Genghis Khan drank a tea of Ma juang before sentry duty to avoid the punishment of beheading if they fell asleep on duty.
The active ingredient of Ephedra, ephedrine, did not become popular with U.S. physicians, for its medicinal properties, until 1924. It was hailed as a cure for asthma due to its ability to relax the airways, but later Ephedra was found to cause a significant raise in blood pressure. This danger and other health problems caused by its extensive use as a stimulant in diet supplements, the United States FDA issued a ban, in April, 2004, on the sales of all products containing the alkaloid ephedrine.
The individual flowers are either male or female and grow on separate plants. The plant cannot fertilize itself because individual Ephedra plants are of one sex. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is to be harvested.