Ephedra (Herba Ephedrae; Ma Huang)


TCM Herbal Story


Ephedra (Herba Ephedrae; Ma Huang)


Long ago, there was an old man who made his living by picking and selling herbs.  Since he had no children, he took in an apprentice to pass on his knowledge.  However, the apprentice was arrogant and felt superior to his master just after several months of training.  When the old man found out that the apprentice even stole money from him, he was very disappointed and told his apprentice to set up his own business.


Before the apprentice took off, the old man reminded him to pay special attention to a kind of leafless herb.  He told his apprentice that the stem and the root of the herb possessed different functions: the stem is used to promote sweating, while the root is used to stop sweating.  He asked the apprentice to memorize what he said and warned him that the herb would become deadly if it is misused.


Shortly after the apprentice established his own business, a patient of his was dead after taking the leafless herb.  The family of the dead patient was furious and dragged the apprentice to see the magistrate for justice.


After knowing what happened, the magistrate asked for the name of the master and brought him forward for questioning.   The master declared his innocence and told the magistrate that he specifically asked the apprentice to memorize the functions of the herb before starting his departure.  The magistrate asked the apprentice to repeat the functions, and the apprentice was able to memorize the functions perfectly: the stem of the herb is used to promote sweating, while the root is used to stop sweating.  The magistrate then asked for the symptoms of the dead patient and the part of the herb that the apprentice prescribed, and found that the apprentice used the stem of the herb to treat sweating, which worsened the symptoms and ultimately caused the patient’s life.  Therefore, the master was released and the apprentice received 40 strokes of beating, along with 3 years in prison.


Three years later, after finished serving his time in prison, the apprentice went back to visit his master.  He promised to change to a better person and begged the the master to take him in again.  The master agreed to give him another chance and taught him everything he knew.


From this day forward, the apprentice became very cautious when using the leafless herb.  He also named the leafless herb “Ma Fan Cao”, meaning “troublesome herb”, in order to remember what had happened in the past.  The herb was later renamed as “Ma Huang” for the yellow color of the root.



Ephedra is the root of Ephedra sinica Stapf., E. equisetina Bunge. or E. intermedia Schrenk et Mey.. Its properties are slightly and warm.  It enters through the lung and bladder.


Actions & Indications:

  • Releases the exterior and disperses cold
  • Facilitates the movement of Lung qi and controls wheezing
  • Promotes urination and reduces edema


Caution & Contradiction

  • If too much of this herb is used, or for too long a period of time, it may cause heavy sweating that weakens the body. Toasting with honey reduces this dispersing property. Use of the herb may also raise blood pressure or cause restlessness and tremors. Use with caution in cases of deficiency with sweating or wheezing.


The original article is from Brion Research Institute, translated by Sun Ten Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.

For Chinese/original version, please go to:



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