Skip to main content

Ma Huang

Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD

Scientific Name:

Ephedra spp.

Other Common Name:

Chinese ephedra, Efedra china.

Parts of the plant used:

The stems.

How is it used?

Ma Huang has been used as a tea, as well as a part of herbal formulas employed for thousands of years in Chinese traditional medicine. In recent years, many dietary supplements in the form of capsules, tablets, drinks and powders marketed in the West, contain Ma Huang or ephedrine, its isolated alkaloid. The use of this plant has been banned by the FDA.

What is it used for?

This plant has been amply used for many centuries by Chinese physicians for a variety of respiratory ailments, especially asthma, due to its bronchodilating (it makes breathing easier) effects. This plant was most commonly used as a source of the alkaloid ephedrine and was included in various dietary supplements, along with other compounds, such as chromium picolinate, for example, purported to reduce obesity and improve athletic performance. The use of Ma Huang or its alkaloid, ephedrine, in dietary supplements, was strongly criticized, because it had been linked to some serious side effects, including high blood pressure, strokes, and even death. Ephedrine or Ma Huang was included in weight loss supplements, as well as in “energy stimulating” beverages along with other plants or substances that also act as central nervous system stimulants, such as Guaraná, Ginseng, Sida cordifolia or caffeine, for example.


Safety / Precautions


  • Ma Huang in Chinese traditional medicine is usually taken as a combination with other medicinal herbs for the treatment of asthma, as well as other respiratory ailments, only under medical supervision.
  • Ma Huang or herbal supplements containing ephedrine should not be used in small children, pregnancy or lactation. Avoid in persons with high blood pressure or that have any form of heart, kidney or liver disease.
  • Do not ingest along with caffeine or caffeine containing herbs, such as Guaraná. Avoid combination with drugs or other herbs that possess central nervous system stimulant effects, such as Ginseng, Eleuthero (“Siberian Ginseng”), Máte or Sida cordifolia, for example.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with your health care professional first. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication: Always be on the safe side!