Ephedra is medicinal herb used to treat asthma, bronchitis, rhinitis, cold, allergy, hay fever, sinusitis, hypotension, and weight loss. In China, this herb has been used for thousands of years to cure respiratory disorders due to its bronchodilator and decongestant action.
The name Ephedra is used to indicate many species of plant belonging to genus Ephedra, and containing large amount of alkaloid Ephedrine.
In Homoeopathy, mother tincture of Ephedra is prepared from the coarse powder of plant stem, after mixing with purified water and strong alcohol.
Ephedra belongs to plant family Ephedraceae. Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.
- Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
- Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
- Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
- Division: Gnetophyta – Mormon tea and other gnetophytes
- Class: Gnetopsida
- Order: Ephedrales
- Family: Ephedraceae – Mormon-tea family
- Genus: Ephedra L. – jointfir
- Ephedra equisetina Bunge – ma huang
- Ephedra gerardiana Wall. ex Stapf – Gerard jointfir
- Ephedra sinica Stapf – Chinese ephedra
- Ephedra vulgaris – mahuang
Ephedra vulgaris, is rigid and clustered. It is about 30 cm high. It has woody stem, branchlets are green, ascending, internodes 1.3 to 3.8 cm long, 1.3 to 2 mm in diameter, striate, smooth or slightly scabrid on the ridges. Leaves reduced to sheaths 2 cm long, 2-toothed.
Male cones ovate, solitary or 2 to 3 together; flowers 4 to 8; bracts round, obtuse, connate 1.5 to 2 mm long. Female cones usually solitary 1 to 2. Flowers tubules exserted, straight. Fruit 7.5 to 10 mm long, ovoid, red sweet, edible. The taste strongly astringent and odour is aromatic.
Ephedra vulgaris is found in dry, temperate and alpine regions of Himalaya at the altitude of 7000 feet to 16000 feet. It is known as Somlata in Sanskrit. Ephedra vulgaris is a small shrub, with whorled branches. The leaves of plant are dark green, cylindrical and curved. It bears ovoid, red, sweet edible fruits. The roots of the plant is in the form of rhizome.
Common names: Ephedra, Ma Huang; Japanese Ma-oh, Mupe
Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: The dried stems and leaves.
Plant type: herb.
Distribution: Different species are found all over the world.
Habitat: In India, it is only found in the trans-Himalayan habitats.
Used as: capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.
Constituents of Ephedra
The principal active ingredient is ephedrine (alkaloid C10H15NO).
Ephedrine is a compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart and used in the treatment of several disorders including asthma, heart failure, rhinitis, and urinary incontinence, and for its central nervous system stimulatory effects in the treatment of narcolepsy and depression.
Important Medicinal Properties of Ephedra
- Alterative: restore to normal health.
- Anti–obesity: reduces obesity.
- Antitussive: prevent and relieve a cough.
- Bronchodilator: causes widening of the bronchi, for example any of those taken by inhalation for the alleviation of asthma.
- Convulsant: producing sudden and involuntary muscle contractions.
- Central nervous system stimulant: increase physical activity, mental alertness and attention span.
- Decongestant: used to relieve nasal congestion.
- Diaphoretic: inducing perspiration.
- Diuretic: causing increased passing of urine.
- Expectorant: promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages, used to treat coughs.
- Hypertensive: causes high blood pressure.
- Thermogenic: produce heat.
- Vasoconstrictor: causes narrowing of the blood vessels.
Medicinal Uses of Ephedra
Ephedra has bronchodilation properties. It is a cardiac stimulant and relieves asthma. The alkaloid Ephedrine present in it helps in controlling asthma. It is also used for headache and influenza.
Ephedra is generally used in form of powder, tea or decoction. For preparing, the decoction about 1 teaspoon of plant stem powder is added to one cup water and boiled till water is reduced to one fourth. This is filtered and taken as a medicine.
Side effects / Adverse effects and Cautions of Ephedra
- It should not be used in low appetite, anxiety, cerebral perfusion, diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure, restlessness, and hyperthyroidism.
- It causes cardiovascular complications.
- The alkaloid Ephedrine dilates the eyes.
- It may cause pain in cardiac region.
- It increases blood pressure by stimulation of vasomotor nerves.
- It may cause palpitations and tingling-numbness in legs.
- It can cause addiction, anxiety, anorexia, cardiac arrest, irregular heartbeats, faintness, painful or difficult urination, flushing, headache, high blood pressure, insomnia, irritability, nausea, nervousness, palpitations, restlessness, rapid heart rate,: uterus contraction, mouth dryness vomiting.
- It may worsen cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
- It may cause seizures.
- Do not take in pregnancy.
- It is NOT recommended for long-term use.
Remember, Ephedra use may lead to serious health problems when used with other dietary supplements or medicines.