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Ephedras

SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Many members of the genus Ephedra have been used medicinally. The most common of these include E. altissima, E. sinica Stapf., E.intermedia Schrenk and Meyer, and E. nevadensis Watson.
Family: Ephedraceae (Gnetaceae)

COMMON NAME(S): Sea grape, ma-huang, yellow horse, yellow astringent, joint fir, squaw tea, Mormon tea, popotillo, teamster's tea

History

The Ephedras have a long history of use as stimulants and for the management of bronchial disorders. It is believed that these plants were used more than 5000 years ago by the Chinese to treat asthma. Ephedra has been used in Asian medicine to treat colds, flu, fevers, chills, headaches, edema, lack of perspiration, nasal congestion, aching joints and bones, coughing, and wheezing. Today, Ephedra continues to find a place in herbal preparations designed to relieve cold symptoms and to improve respiratory function. How­ever, the use of standardized ephedrine pseudoephedrine preparations has supplanted the use of the crude drug in most developed countries.

North American species that are alkaloid free (eg, E. nevadensis) have been made into refreshing, non-stimulating beverages used to treat venereal diseases. The fruits of some species are eaten, while ashes of E. intermedia are mixed with chewing tobacco in Pakistan.

Botany :- Ephedra species have a worldwide distribution. They are generally erect evergreen plants, often resembling small shrubs. The plants resemble a bunch of jointed branches covered with minute leaves. These plants generally have a strong pine odor and astringent taste. They have been suggested as an economic cash crop for the southwestern US.

Uses of Ephedras

Ephedra preparations are traditionally used to relieve colds, improve respiratory function, and treat a range of ills from headaches to venereal disease. Evidence shows that plant parts of various species exert hypoglycemic, hypo- and hypertensive, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Side Effects of Ephedras

Large doses may cause a variety of ill effects from skin reactions to toxic psychosis and mutagenic effects. Those with high blood pressure and diabetes should exercise caution before using ephedra.

Toxicology

In large doses, ephedrine, causes nervousness, headache, insomnia, dizziness, palpitations, skin flushing. tingling, vomiting, anxiety, and restlessness. Toxic psychosis could be Induced by ephedrine. Skin reactions have been observed in sensitive patients. Patients with high blood pressure and diabetes should exercise caution when using these plants.

E. altissima yields several mutagenic n-nitrosamines under simulated gastric conditions, For example, N-nitrosephedrine causes metastasizing liver-cell carcinomas, as well as cancer of the lung and fore stomach in animals. However, the investigators noted that the potential for endogenous formation of these compounds following ingestion of the tea is extremely small.

The FDA warns consumers not to purchase or consume ephedrine-containing dietary supplements with labels that often portray the products as apparent alternatives to illegal street drugs such as "ecstacy," because these products pose health risks to consumers.

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