Ephedra sinica.

Ephedra, Mormon Tea, Joint-pine

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Image credit - Frank Vincentz, original work.

Geographical origins



-Northeastern China

Current Distribution

-Southwestern North America
-Southern Europe

-Northern Africa

-Southwest and central Asia

-Northern China

-Western South America

Chinese Medicine

Known in Chinese as Ma-huang, this herb was first mentioned in text over three thousand years ago in The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica, the classical text which laid the foundation for all traditional Chinese medicine. It was used to treat the common old, headache, and warm malaria. It also has edema-reducing capabilities. Ephedra is only administered by licensed Chinese medicine practitioners usually along with one or more other herbs to treat a variety of diseases, notably asthma, or the cold/flu. The active secondary chemicals in the plant are the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. In the US, Ephedra is most often used to make Epinephrine, a form of synthetic adrenaline.

Legality and Safety

Unlike China where Ephedra is used as a remedy for the common cold, in the US it was typically used as an energy enhancer or as a weight loss product. Many of these products contained amounts of Ephedra two to three times higher than what the Chinese typically prescribe. Overdose effects of Ephedra can include sweating, nervousness, stroke, and sudden cardiac death syndrome. After several Ephedra-related deaths, the US FDA decided to ban the substance in 2004.


Ma Huang Herb Misused and Abused. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://www.pacificcollege.edu/acupuncture-massage-news/articles/586-ma-huang-herb-misused-and-abused.html

Bensky D. and Baroler R., Chinese Herbal Medicine : Materia Medica , 1993 Eastland Press, Incorporated, Seattle , WA.

Levetin, E., & McMahon, K. (2011). Plants & society (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.