Ma Huang – Ephedra – Herba Ephedra

Ma Huang

English Name: ephedra

Pharmaceutical name: Herba Ephedrae

Medica Category: Wind-Cold Releasing Herbs

Properties: Ma Huang enters the Lung and Urinary Bladder channels; it is acrid and bitter in nature and warm in temperature

What is Ma Huang?

Ma Huang is the dried grass stem of the plant Ephedra Sinica. It can be used in formula unprocessed (better at inducing perspiration) or honey-fried (better at moistening the lung and relieving wheezing).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) actions of Ma Huang:

Ma Huang is a Chinese Herb that induces perspiration and ventilates the lungs. It is of a warm and dispersive nature, which makes it particularly effective for treating wind-cold syndrome (i.e. the first signs of a cold— as in the formula Ma Huang Tang).

It also works synergistically with Xing Ren (apricot kernel) to address asthma-related complaints (wheezing and coughing due to constriction of the bronchial tubes).

Ma Huang is also effective in treating “painful obstruction syndrome” (Bi Zheng) caused by wind-damp and cold conditions. Two examples of how wind-cold-damp obstruction might manifest in everyday life this might be (1) joints that swell up and/or become painful in cold, rainy weather or (2) localized swellings that blend into the surrounding tissues that do not show heat signs (i.e. they are not hot to the touch or show any redness).

Ma Huang also regulates water circulation and relieves edema (through both diaphoresis and increased urination.

**Safety note/concernMa Huang contains numerous naturally occurring ephedrine alkaloids as active ingredients in its chemistry; however, certain pharmaceutical companies were extracting and concentrating these alkaloids and using them to make supplements (like diet pills and energy boosters/enhancers) that had dangerous side effects such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. After a series of incidents in the early 2000’s, the FDA banned the sale of ephedrine alkaloid-containing dietary supplements. This was/is an improper and unethical use of this herb; Ma Huang has been used in China for thousands of years and is safe when used correctly in formula under the supervision of a trained herbalist or acupuncturist.