Ephedra sinica - Ma-huangFAMILY: Ephedraceae
GENUS: Ephedra
COMMON NAMES: Ask-for-trouble, Chinese Ephedra, Chinese Joint Fir, Chinesisches Meertraubel, Ma-huang, Ts’ao Ma-huang

Ephedra sinica is a perennial horsetail plant which can grow up to 75 cm in height. It produces leafless, segmented round canes. The fruits are red, contain small round black seeds, and develop in late autumn (Ratsch 1998, 229).

E. sinica is found from northern China up to Outer Mongolia. It is found only at high altitudes, primarily on steep slopes in arid or semi-arid areas. E. sinica may be cultivated by seeds sown in light, sandy soil in the springtime.  It may also be propagated through the root stock.  The plant requires a dry, warm climate to thrive (Ratsch 1998, 229).

TRADITIONAL USES: E. sinica is one of the oldest known medicinal herbs in China. Its use as a medicine may date as far back as six thousand years.  Traditional Chinese Medicine has its roots in shamanism, and since E. sinica has such a long history of use, it is almost certain that Chinese and Mongolian shamans used the plant for ritual and medicinal reasons.  However, at present, there are no sources available that confirm this. E. sinica is still used in aphrodisiac tonics in China, and it may also be assumed that Taoist practitioners have utilized the plant when seeking long life and in practicing sex magic.  For about 2000 years, the Qawrighul of western China buried the dead with bundles of E. sinica twigs tied to them (Ratsch 1998, 229).

It is interesting to note that the first character in the Chinese word for Cannabis sativa (Ma-fen) is the same as the first character in the Chinese word for E. sinica (Ma-huang).  This character is used to denote intoxication, and is probably used in both cases because both plants produce euphoria and stimulation.

TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: A tea is made by boiling one heaping teaspoon of E. sinica herbage in 1/4 liter of water for 5-10 minutes.  This is a medicinal dosage and is used to relieve hay fever, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. Fresh or dried E. sinica herbage is also sometimes added to wine or brandy.  Cardamom, anise, and fennel may be added to reduce the bitter taste (Paulus & Ding 1987 cited in Ratsch 1998, 229).

An appropriate daily dosage is said to be 1.5-9 grams alone or in preparation. The daily dosage for the root is said to be 3-9 grams. In China, a preparation known as mimahuang is prepared by chopping raw E. sinica herbage and mixing it with honey at a ratio of 10:2 (herbage:honey).  The stems are then roasted until the honey is absorbed and the mixture is no longer sticky (Hiller 1993 cited in Ratsch 1998, 229).

MEDICINAL USES: E. sinicia is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat asthma, and has been for over five thousand years.  The stems and the roots are used to treat lung and bladder disorders, and the stems are used to treat fever, colds, headaches, and hay fever.  The root may also be used to treat night-sweats caused by chi deficiency or yin deficiency (Wee & Keng 1992).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: E. sinica primarily contains ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine and norephedrine, as well as several ephedrine analogs.  The alkaloid content is highest in the stems, and is greatest in herbage collected in autumn (Ratsch 1998, 230).

E. sinica has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system similar to that of ephedrine. It accelerates the pulse, constricts blood vessels, stimulates, and awakens. Other effects include appetite suppression and the relief of bronchial spasms and hay fever symptoms. E. sinica is considered an excellent aphrodisiac, particularly for women. Due to the vasoconstrictive effects, high doses of E. sinica may cause men to become temporarily impotent regardless of arousal (Ratsch 1998, 230).

Individuals with high blood pressure and heart troubles should avoid E. sinica. MAOIs potentiate the effects of the plant considerably, so individuals who are taking MAOIs should avoid E. sinica at all costs (Hiller 1993 cited in Ratsch 1998, 230).



“Ephedra (Ephedra Sinica) / Ma Huang – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 26 May 2011. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ephedra/NS_patient-ephedra>.

Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.

Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.

Wee, Y., and H. Keng. An Illustrated Dictionary of Chinese Medicinal Herbs. Sebastopol, California: CRCS Publications, 1992.