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Herb Gallery

Ma Huang (Ephedra intermedia)

  • Botanical name: Ephedra intermedia
  • Common name: Ephedra
  • Literal name translation: hemp yellow
  • Family: Ephedraceae, ephedra family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: stems
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Releases exterior, induces sweating, disseminates Lung qi,
    calms wheezing, promotes urination
Ephedra intermedia
Ephedra intermedia;

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Ephedra intermedia; 03/2008; author Sten Porse; permission under GFDL
Photo 2: Ephedra intermedia; 03/2008; author Sten Porse; permission under GFDL

Growing and Propagation

Ephedra sinica is relatively easy to grow. The plant flowers from May to June and seeds ripen from August to September. It is hardy to zone 0, thrives in ordinary loamy soil and does very well in loose rocky or sandy soil with full sun and a little water. It makes an excellent ground cover on rocky slopes. During the first year of growth, the plants must be watered regularly and kept weed-free, but mature plants are drought tolerant. To produce seeds both male and female plants are needed.

Propagation is by clump division in the spring, or seeds sown in spring. Seeds can be planted in a greenhouse as soon as they are ripe in autumn, or in warm, dry climates, seeds can be planted directly outdoors in the spring when temperatures are about 68 degrees F.

Harvesting and Preparation

Stems can be gathered any time of year but the stems have their highest alkaloid content during the bloom season. Good quality Ma Huang tastes bitter and astringent. The stems should be light green or yellowish green, with a reddish brown center, and not break when pulled at the stem junctions.


Ephedra sinica is native to East Asia, growing mainly in the desert region, plains and mountain slopes of northern China. It has been used in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years. In recent years, there has been a great deal of concern in the U.S. over the safety of ephedra use and in 2004, U.S. Federal Drug Administration banned the sale of over the counter supplements containing ephedra alkaloids.