Herb: Ma Huang

Latin name: Ephedra gerardiana

Synonyms: Ephedra vulgaris

Family: Ephedraceae

Medicinal use of Ma Huang:

Members of this genus contain various medicinally active alkaloids (but notably ephedrine) and they are widely used in preparations for the treatment of asthma and catarrh. Ephedrine acts promptly to reduce swellings of the mucous membranes and has antispasmodic properties, thus making it valuable in the treatment of asthma. This species contains between 0.28 and 2.79 alkaloids. The whole plant can be used at much lower concentrations than the isolated constituents - unlike using the isolated ephedrine, using the whole plant rarely gives rise to side-effects. The plant also has antiviral effects, particularly against influenza. The stems are a pungent, bitter, warm herb that dilates the bronchial vessels whilst stimulating the heart and central nervous system. The stems are also diaphoretic. diuretic and vasodilator. They are used internally in the treatment of asthma, hay fever and allergic complaints. They are also combined with a number of other herbs and used in treating a wide range of complaints. This herb should be used with great caution, preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It should not be prescribed to patients who are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or suffering from high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism or glaucoma. Ephedrine is seen as a performance-boosting herb and, as such, is a forbidden substance in many sporting events such as athletics. The stems are used in Tibetan medicine, where they are considered to have a bitter taste and a cooling potency. Febrifuge, tonic and vulnerary, they are used in the treatment of severe bleeding and chronic fevers. A decoction of the stems and roots is used in Russia to treat rheumatism and syphilis. The stems can be harvested at any time of the year and are dried for later use. The juice of the berries is used to treat respiratory affections.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Stony slopes and gravel terraces in drier areas of the Himalayas at 2400 - 5000 metres from Afghanistan to Bhutan.

Edible parts of Ma Huang:

Fruit - raw. A sweet flavour. The fruit is about 7mm in diameter.

Other uses of the herb:

The wood is very close grained. Too small for commercial exploitation, though it is used locally for fuel. A good ground cover plant for dry soils. Plants should be spaced about 60cm apart each way.

Propagation of Ma Huang:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a greenhouse. It can also be sown in spring in a greenhouse in a sandy compost. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on for at least their first winter in a greenhouse. Plant out in the spring or early summer after the last expected frosts and give some protection in their first winter. Division in spring or autumn. Layering.

Cultivation of the herb:

Stony slopes and gravel terraces in drier areas of the Himalayas at 2400 - 5000 metres from Afghanistan to Bhutan.

Known hazards of Ephedra gerardiana:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.