Ephedra – Substitute For Ma Huang

Q: Can we grow ephedra here in Atlanta?

A: You wouldn’t be looking for a homegrown substitute for ma huang (CQ) would you? Herbal weight loss products have included extracts of the ephedra plant, called ^ma huang^, for the past several years. Ephedra has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years for bronchial spasms and as a stimulant for the sympathetic nervous system. Several species of ephedra are native to the southwest deserts of the United States. Two, ^Ephedra nevadensis^ and ^Ephedra viridis^ , are known as Mormon Tea. Other species are native to the Orient. The various species of ephedra contain different amounts of the drug ephedrine.

Ephedra can be a medium-sized shrub that can grow up to four feet high or a short groundcover. It appears to have no leaves. A shrubby ephedra looks like a thicket of numerous green, jointed, leafless branches with thick nodes. It actually does have small, scale-like leaves and tiny flowers of male and female cones which bloom February through April.

Tom Harvey at the Atlanta Botanical Garden says they have ephedra growing in the conifer garden. “They look nice once or twice a year.” he confides, “but I consider them to be plants only a mother could love.”