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Ephedra / MA HUANG- Properties and Substitutions

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Ephedra / MA HUANG


It's unfortunate that ephedra has become a controlled substance, and thus largely unavailable in the USA.  MA HUANG is one of the most important herbs in the Chinese herbal pharmacopeia.  It is sorely missed because of its many uses, some have been difficult to duplicate using  other herbs. 

Ephedra / MA HUANG is used to treat cough, relieve asthma, induce sweating, and combat wheezing.  It is classified as a warm surface relieving agent used to treat Wind-Cold conditions. Unfortunately, in the West the herb has been abused as it is a source of amphetamine and a strong stimulant in its own right. It was most often used as a weight loss herb, as it can speed-up metabolism and suppress appetite at the same time.  In TCM the herb is used only in formula and never alone.  An herb as powerful as MA HUANG is considered too harsh and extreme to be used alone, without the moderating effects of other herbs.

Ephedra has caffeine like properties and can cause high blood pressure, restlessness, tremors, rapid heart beat, heart palpitations, and difficulty falling asleep. Though it is stimulating, it shouldn't be used to treat fatigue, as fatigue is often caused by QI depletion, and the use of MA HUANG could cause further depletion.


Substitutes for MA HUANG

Since ephedra has become unavailable everywhere except on the internet, herbalists have had to find new herbs to take the place of MA HUANG in traditional formulas.  We've found that the substitutes can be effective in most cases, but that combinations of several herbs are required to match the effects of MA HUANG, and that different substitutions must be used for the various functions of MA HUANG.  For example, we might use a combination of BAI GUO (gingko nut) and SANG BAI PI (mulberry root bark) to substitute for ephedra when treating wheezing from asthma, but we might use GUI ZHI (cinnamon twigs) and FANG FENG (siler) when replacing MA HUANG as a diaphoretic (to provoke sweating).

For cough due to the common cold we recommend combining SANG YE (mulberry leaf) with SHENG JIANG (fresh ginger).  The following are other possible substitutions.

Wind-Cold Exterior Patterns - GUI ZHI + HUO XIANG

Wheezing from Lung Heat - SU ZI + XING REN + HUANG QIN

Wheezing from Congested Fluids - GAN JIANG + QIAN HU + FU LING

Cough & Wheezing from Deficient Kidney YIN - SHU DI HUANG + LAI FU ZI


Traditional Chinese Medicine is powerful and reliable, but it can be complex. As TCM is not based on symptoms alone, self-diagnosis and self-treatment aren't recommended. Best to start a low cost online-herbal-consultation.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their health care provider before taking any supplement.