Herbs & Plants

Ephedra (genus)

Botanical Name :Ephedra distachya
Family: Ephedraceae
Genus: Ephedra
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Gnetophyta
Class: Gnetopsida
Order: Ephedrales
Common Names: Joint-pine, Jointfir, Mormon-tea or Brigham Tea. Mormon-tea,, cañatilla, popotillo, tepopote (Stevenson 1993), Sea Grape

The Chinese name is , má huáng (Fu et al. 1999)., which means “yellow hemp”. Ephedra is also sometimes called sea grape (from the French raisin de mer), although that is also a common name for Coccoloba uvifera.

Habitat :
Semiarid and arid areas in North America, Mexico, South America  south to Patagonia. , Europe, Asia, and N and E Africa (including Canary Islands) (Stevenson 1993, Fu et al. 1999).

The 35 species in this treatment are distributed as follows:

Their habitats are all described as dry, rocky and/or sandy. A few species occur in grasslands, and for a few species, habitat is not specified.

One species occurs in Argentina and Chile, from Tierra del Fuego to 42° S.

Two species occur in North Africa, one of which also occurs in SW Asia (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel) and Cyprus.

Twelve species are in the USA (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wyoming) of which 5 species also occur in Mexico (Baja California Norte, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, Sonora).

The remaining 21 species are Eurasian, with focal areas in central Asia (18 species) and around the Mediterreanean (4 species, plus the North African ones). These break out according to country as follows:

•China: 14 species (in Gansu, Guizhou, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Xizang, and Yunnan)
•Pakistan: 9 species
•Kazakhstan and Mongolia: 8 species each
•Afghanistan: 7 species
•Tajikistan: 6 species
•Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan: 4 species each
•Greece, India, Iran, Nepal, Sikkim, Turkmenistan: 2 species each
•Armenia, Bhutan, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovak Republic, Turkey, Ukraine: 1 species each
The New World species mostly occur at elevations of below 2000 m, with a few species reaching as high as 2300 m. The Eurasian species show a much greater elevation range, from sea level to 5300 m (E. gerardiana, the highest gymnosperm species). E. intermedia probably has the greatest elevational range of any single gymnosperm species, ranging from 100 to 4600 m elevation across its vast range.

It grows on the semi-desert and desert regions and on gritty slopes on the Russian steppes. Grasslands, sandy places and rocky mountain slopes below 900 metres in China.


Shrubs or vines, dioecious (rarely monoecious), with erect, procumbent or climbing stems,  growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 1 m (3ft 3in). Branches jointed, much branched, photosynthetic, yellowish green to olive-green when young. Branchlets opposite or whorled, green, terete, longitudinally grooved. Leaves opposite or in whorls of 3, scalelike, generally ephemeral, mostly not photosynthetic; resin canals absent. Cotyledons 2. Cones terminal or axillary, ovoid to elliptic. Pollen cones solitary or clustered at nodes, each composed of 2-8 descussate pairs or 3-part whorls of membranous bracts, proximal bracts empty; each distal bract subtending a male flower composed of 2 basally fused, orbicular or obovate scales (false perianth); anthers sessile or stipitate on staminal column. Seed cones opposite or in whorls of 3 or 4 at nodes, each cone composed of overlapping bracts; bracts arranged in 2-10 decussate pairs or whorls of 3, red and fleshy at maturity (rarely brown and membranous), proximal bracts empty, most distal bracts subtending an axillary female flower composed of a pair of fused, leathery scales (false perianth) enclosing ovule with a single membranous integument prolonged into a slender, tubular micropyle. Seeds 1-3 per cone, ellipsoid to globose, yellow to dark brown, smooth to scabrous or furrowed (Stevenson 1993, Fu et al. 1999).

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Requires a well-drained loamy soil and a sunny position. Established plants are drought resistant and are also lime tolerant. Plants are hardy to at least -15°c. This species does not flower or fruit well in Britai. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a greenhouse. It can also be sown in spring in a greenhouse in a sandy compost. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on for at least their first winter in a greenhouse. Plant out in the spring or early summer after the last expected frosts and give some protection in their first winter. Division in spring or autumn. Layering.

 Edible Uses :  Fruit  is eaten raw. A sweet but rather insipid flavour. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter.

Medicinal Uses:

Plants of the Ephedra genus, including E. sinica and others, have traditionally been used by indigenous people for a variety of medicinal purposes, including treatment of asthma, hay fever, and the common cold. They have also been proposed as a candidate for the Soma plant of Indo-Iranian religion. The alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are active constituents of E. sinica and other members of the genus. These compounds are sympathomimetics with stimulant and decongestant qualities and are related chemically to the amphetamines. Ephedra nevadensis contains ephedrine in its roots, stems and branches. Ephedra distachya contains up to 3% ephedrine in the entire plant. Ephedra sinica contains approximately 2.2% ephedrine.

Members of this genus contain various medicinally active alkaloids (but notably ephedrine) and they are widely used in preparations for the treatment of asthma and catarrh. The whole plant can be used at much lower concentrations than the isolated constituents – unlike using the isolated ephedrine, using the whole plant rarely gives rise to side-effects. The plant also has antiviral effects, particularly against influenza. Ephedrine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system dilating the coronary vessels. It has a powerful and rapid antiallergic action. Indicated to combat coughs, asthma, hay fever, nettle-rash, some edema and eczema conditions. A tincture and an extract are used. It is used to relieve acute muscular and rheumatic pains (when it is called teamsters’ tea), as a stimulant, and in the cardio tonics in Ayurveda. It is sometimes identified with the legendary drug soma, as described in the Avesta and the Rig Veda, the respective ancient sacred texts of the Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths. Valued in Chinese medicine almost as much as Ephedra sinica. The branches and root are used in Siberia as a remedy in gout and syphilis.
The stems are a pungent, bitter, warm herb that dilates the bronchial vessels while stimulating the heart and central nervous system. They are used internally in the treatment of asthma, hay fever and allergic complaints. They are also combined with a number of other herbs and used in treating a wide range of complaints.


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The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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