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    Ephedra

    Scientific Names

    Ephedra

    • Ephedra nevadensis L.
    • Ephedra sinica
    • Ephedraceae
    • Gnetaceae

    Common Names

    • Brigham Young weed
    • Desert herb
    • Desert tea
    • Ma huang
    • Mormon tea
    • Squaw tea
    • Teamster’s tea

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    Parts Usually Used

    Above ground herb and root (known as ma huang gen of the E. sinica variety).
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    Description of Plant(s) and Culture

    Desert tea is a broom-like shrub, somewhat resembling shave grass. The jointed grooved, green stems and branches of some species reach heights of up to 7 feet, but most are smaller. 2 to 3 scalelike leaves, more or less persistent depending on the species, grow at each joint in the stem and branches. ale and female cones appear on different plants, the male featuring prominent yellow pollen sacs.

    Other varieties: Ma-huang (E. sinica); Joint fir (E. sinensis); (E. trifurca); (E. viridis); Somalata in Sanskrit and also called Ma huang by the Chinese (E. vulgaris); (E. equistina) from Siberia and China. Ephedra is the source of the widely used drug ephedrine. In India, the variety E. gerardiana is thought to have been the prime ingredient of soma, a potent tonic and elixir of youth.
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    Where Found

    Its various species can be found in the arid areas of the Northern Hemisphere, including the deserts of the southwestern United States. The herb seems to grow best at higher altitudes and prefers rocky, alkaline soil. It needs very little moisture.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Diaphoretic, stimulant, decongestant, antirheumatic, astringent, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic
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    Biochemical Information

    Ephedrine alkaloids (small amount)

    Ephedra root: alkaloid ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine, tannins, saponin, flavone, essential oil
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    E. nevadensis is known as Mormon tea because the Mormons made an herbal brew from it. The earliest record of Mormon tea appeared in the Badianus manuscript; a 1552 herbal highlighting Mexican plants. Written by an Aztec medicine man, the book was translated into Latin and the original copy today resides in the Vatican. Known to early settlers of the American West as “squaw tea”, and was an excellent substitute for coffee or regular tea. The early pioneers brewed this tea and mixed the powder of pinon pine sap to concoct a salve to soothe open sores on humans and animals alike.

    Mormon tea works similarly to ma huang but is less strong. There is a significant difference in stimulating properties between the Oriental ephedra, ma huang, and the American variety which has little or no ephedrine alkaloids. The more stimulating Chinese ma huang contains plant forms of adrenaline, ephedrine and nor-ephedrine. Ma huang is the Emperor or principal therapeutic herb for the Chinese.

    Ma-huang (E. sinica) is a Chinese species of ephedra which has been used in China for over 2,000 years to treat headache, colds, fevers, and skin eruptions. It contains a potent alkaloid, ephedrine, which is present only minutely in other species. Used medicinally for colds, asthma, and hay fever.

    Native Americans added Mormon tea to their treatment of venereal diseases.

    The alkaloid ephedrine, extracted from the ephedra, was first identified by Chinese scientists in 1924; 2 years later the pharmaceutical company Merck produced a synthetic version, still used to treat asthma.

    Today, compounds derived from ephedra are commonly found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.

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    Uses

    Commonly taken as a pleasant beverage. Can be used as a remedy for kidney and bladder problems, colds, flu, asthma, headaches, hayfever, allergies, hives, rheumatism, lung problems, water retention. Native Americans of the southwest drink a decoction several times a day to relieve kidney pain or to treat a fever. Native Americans used it, both internally and externally, to treat syphilis and mucous discharges. Early pioneers considered desert tea a good blood purifier. Delicious and unusual flavor, good aroma.

    The ephedra root is used to treat diarrhea, sweating, night sweats, and postpartum sweating.
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    Formulas or Dosages

    Recipe for Mormon tea: pour a cup of boiling water over about a tbsp. dried stems and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes. If using fresh stems, be more generous, as fresh tea is not as concentrated as the dried form. Strain and sweeten with honey to taste. A cure-all or not, Mormon tea is a pleasantly refreshing beverage. Early Mexicans called the stems “canutillo”, meaning little tubes and pipes.

    Decoction: to use as a diuretic, take a glassful of the cold decoction every morning.

    For Chinese ma huang 2-6 grams in decoction; for Western ephedra, 4-12 grams, and of Western ephedra root, 6-15 grams.
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    How Sold

    Capsules: 1 capsule for up to 3 times daily to relieve stuffy nose, watery eyes, and other cold and allergy symptoms.

    Ephedra teas and other commercially prepared cold remedies are sold in health food and herb stores.
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    Warning

    Ephedra is a long-acting stimulant. American ephedra, known as Mormon tea or desert tea, is much milder than the Chinese variety (E. sinica) and is used in a similar fashion. Ma huang (E. sinica) is used in many natural cold remedies.

    People with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease should not use any of the ephedra species. Or use under strict supervision with a doctor. Do not exceed recommended dose. Check with the doctor before using any ephedra preparations if you are pregnant or nursing.
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    Bibliography

    Buy It! The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, Inc, 232 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, First American Edition, copyright 1993

    Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

    Buy It! Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible, by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., Simon & Schuster/Fireside, Rockefeller Center 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

    Buy It! Indian Uses of Native Plants, by Edith Van Allen Murphey, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1958, print 1990

    Herbal Gardening, compiled by The Robison York State Herb Garden, Cornell Plantations, Matthaei Botanical Gardens of the University of Michigan, University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley., Pantheon Books, Knopf Publishing Group, New York, 1994, first edition

    Buy It! Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., Lotus Press, PO Box 325, Twin Lakes. WI 53181., Copyright 1988, published 1992

    Buy It! The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, by Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, Second edition, 1988.

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature’s Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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