Ephedra is an evergreen shrub-like plant native to Central Asia and Mongolia. The principal active ingredient, ephedrine, is a compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. More recently, ephedra was used as an ingredient in dietary supplements for weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced athletic performance.
Ephedra (Ephedra sinica), also called ma huang, is an herb that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 5,000 years, primarily to treat asthma or bronchitis. Ephedra is also prescribed for symptoms of cold and influenza (flu), including nasal congestion, cough, fever, and chills. The branches and tops are used to make medicine, but the root or whole plant can also be used. Ephedra is banned in the U.S. due to safety concerns. There has been a lot of debate about the safety of ephedra and legal wrangling over its status.
In June 1997, the FDA proposed restrictions on the ephedrine content of dietary supplements, new warning labels for products that contain the active ingredients in ephedra, and a ban on combination products containing ephedra and other natural stimulants, such as guarana and cola nut, both of which contain significant amounts of caffeine. In August 2006, an appeals court reversed the Utah judge’s decision and upheld the FDA’s ban of ephedra-containing dietary supplements.
Ephedra can be used either as a tea or powdered and put into capsules. When prepared as a tea, old time herbalists and Mormon pioneers recommend that one use the “grounds” repeatedly, adding a teaspoon of the freshly dried herb on top of the herbal grounds left from previous days. This method should be continued for at least four to six days since it takes several days of simmering this tea, 15 to 20 minutes a day, to sufficiently extract all the bio-available copper and other minerals. Naturally, more water and ephedra should be added to the tea each day.
Taking ephedra can result in anxiety, difficulty urinating, dry mouth, headache, heart damage, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, irritation of the stomach, kidney stones, nausea, psychosis, restlessness, sleep problems, and tremors. Caution must be taken before consuming this herb.