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ephedrine (ĭfĕdˈrĭn, ĕfˈĭdrēnˌ), drug derived from plants of the genus Ephedra (see Pinophyta), most commonly used to prevent mild or moderate attacks of bronchial asthma. Unlike epinephrine, to which it is chemically similar, ephedrine is slow to take effect and of mild potency and long duration. A bronchodilator and decongestant, ephedrine is used to relieve nasal congestion originating from allergic conditions, e.g., hay fever, or from bacterial or viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. It may be used as well to raise blood pressure. Ephedrine also is used in the production of methamphetamine (see amphetamine).

Ephedrine is the active constituent of ma huang, an herbal preparation used medically in China for thousands of years. Also commonly known as ephedra, it is derived from several Asian species of Ephedra. Preparations of these species were formerly used in “natural” dieting aids and bodybuilding supplements and also were marketed as “herbal ecstasy.” Ephedra and ma huang may cause such side effects as insomnia, restlessness, euphoria, palpitations, and high blood pressure; there have been reports of a number of deaths associated with their use as recreational drugs and dietary supplements. In 2004 the Food and Drug Administration banned sales of dietary supplements containing ephedra because of illnesses and deaths associated with the drug.

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*Banned in the U.S. (There is a weaker version of the plant called Mormon Tea. See the Desert section). Thin leafless, jointed stick like stalks (red berries in summer). Ephedra is a very effective decongestant herb that has been banned in some countries because of side effects and some deaths resulting from overuse of the synthetic isolate ephedrine. These side effects are not as prevalent when taking the whole plant in its natural state. The ephedra plant has been used for 5000 years for treating asthma, hay fever, lung and breathing problems, congestion, and as a performance enhancer in sports. The pharmaceutical isolate ephedrine raises blood pressure, but the whole plant contains other alkaloids that prevent blood pressure from rising. It’s a stimulant who’s main active constituents are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine,which stimulate brain and increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, increase metabolism and body heat (weight loss), while expanding bronchials in lungs, making breathing easier. Used for colds and flu, promotes sweating. Side effects from taking too much may include anxiety, nervousness, headache, insomnia, trembling, sweating, dehydration, seizures or worse. If taken correctly, it has made people breath better and relax because of its ability to stop asthma attacks. I was given it as an asthmatic child and worked wonders. Like anything, it’s about proper usage, not abuse. I am not prescribing here, just informing historical data :-)
Edible Plant Guide © 2012 Markus Rothkranz
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a genus of gymnospermous plants of the family Ephedraceae. The plants are mostly low, strongly branched shrubs (sometimes lianoid) and small trees reaching 8 m in height. The shoots are virgate and segmented. The opposite leaves are small and usually reduced; the function of photosynthesis is taken over by the young branches. The strobili are unisexual. The staminate ones consist of an axis with two to eight pairs of bracts, whose axils bear microstrobili. The pistillate strobili consist of a seed embryo enclosed by a saclike cover.

There are more than 40 species, occurring in Eurasia, North Africa, and North and South America. They are found primarily in steppe, desert, and mountain regions. The USSR has about 15 species, occurring mainly in Middle Asia. E. equisetina and other species contain the alkaloid ephedrine, which is used in medicine. The branches of E. distachya are a popular remedy for rheumatism and other diseases; sheep are sometimes poisoned by the green branches of the species. The succulent seeds of some species are edible.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A genus of low, leafless, green-stemmed shrubs belonging to the order Ephedrales; source of the drug ephedrine.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.