COMMON NAME (Chinese Name)
Chinese Ephedra (Máhuáng)
Chinese ephedra is the above-ground parts of the Ephedra sinica plant. It is classified as warm, bitter and spicy and goes to the Lung and Bladder channels. It is categorized in Chinese medicine as an herb that helps you sweat out Wind Cold (respiratory conditions with little to no fever.) While there are American ephedra species, they have very different properties.
Chinese ephedra has been used for more than 5,000 years to treat respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever. Ephedra supplements are also often used to diminish and shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms, including nasal/sinus congestion and cough. Taking ephedra alone may cause high blood pressure, which is why TCM practitioners and herbalists prescribe it in conjunction with other herbs that counterbalance these effects.
Within the medical community, there are mixed feelings about the potential uses and safety of ephedra. It is an effective bronchodilator, yet high doses and unapproved use are dangerous, causing physicians anxiety over self-directed use. That’s why, for best results, you should work with a TCM practitioner or herbalist.
Ephedra has been used for weight loss or as a party drug, but both uses are considered dangerous abuses of the herb.
PREPARATION & ADMINISTRATION
Chinese ephedra supplements use the aerial parts of the plant. By drying them, then brewing them into a tea or other similar decoction and skimming off the toxic foam, users can reap numerous benefits to respiratory health and function. It’s worth noting that dietary and performance-enhancing supplements containing ephedra have been banned in the US and elsewhere due to concerns over toxicity. That being said, taking ephedra herbal supplements in small doses for short courses of treatment (as recommended in TCM) does not appear to present the same risk to consumers.
In addition to potentially increasing blood pressure, ephedra may act as a diuretic, leading to increased urination as well as dehydration. Also, despite its history as an herbal asthma-control medicine, the FDA does not recommend using ephedra to treat asthma since it presents an elevated risk of central nervous system side effects (so stick to using it for temporary cold/flu relief). Regardless of intended use and even in low doses, ephedra should not be taken in combination with caffeine.
You should consult with a certified herbalist, physician or other qualified healthcare professional before taking Chinese ephedra.
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