Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Ephedra: Asking For Trouble? :: Botany
Ephedra: Asking For Trouble? A member of the phylum Gnetophyta, the Ephedra genus is a perennial, dioecious shrub that reaches 1 1/2 to 4 feet tall (7). There are multiple species of this genus that inhabit the desert regions in certain parts of the world. The three species E. sinica, E. intermedia, and E. equisetina are found in Asia, particularly China and Mongolia. Ephedra distacha is from Europe. India and Pakistan are home to E. gerardiana. North American species consist of E. nevadensis (Mormon tea), E. viridis (desert tea), E. americana, and E. trifurca (7). It takes an average of four years for the shrub to achieve maturation (10) and is harvested in the fall (11). Ephedra has been used medicinally for hundreds, even thousands of years in the regions where it grows. For more than 5000 years, Ephedra's stems have been dried to cure multiple ailments in China. The first records of its use can be found in a Chinese compilation of herbs called Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (11), which dates back to the first century A.D. (5) E. sinica, called Tsaopen-Ma Huang (2), is the most common species used. Ma Huang refers to the stem and branch, whereas Ma Huanggen refers to the root and rhizome. Ma Huang was used primarily in the treatment of the common cold, asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, edema, arthritis, fever, hypotension, and urticaria (hives). Ma Huanggen's effect is believed to oppose that of the stem and branches. Its use was limited to the treatment of profuse night sweating" (7). Ma Huang was believed to relieve other ailments such as headaches, urinary tract infections, and venereal diseases (10). The Chinese prepared Ephedra different ways, such as extracts and compresses. However, the most common preparation of Ma Huang was as a tea. The stems were dried in the sun and either broken into pieces or crushed into a powder. It was then boiled in a mixture of honey and water. Sometimes it was boiled until only the residue remained, and then consumed (8). Tea appears to be the most common preparation of Ephedra as a medicine in India and North America as well. In India and Pakistan, the stems of E. geradinia were used to treat asthma (8). An ancient collection of Hindu sacred writings called the Rigved gives mention of a drink called soma. Soma was a juice made from Ephedra and was believed to promote longevity (6).