Ephedra (genus)

Ephedra (genus)
Ephedra fragilis in Mallorca
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Gnetophyta
Class: Gnetopsida
Order: Ephedrales
Family: Ephedraceae
Genus: Ephedra

See text.

Map showing the range of Ephedra

Ephedra is a genus of gymnosperm shrubs, the only genus in its family, Ephedraceae, and order, Ephedrales. Ephedra grows in dry climates over wide areas of the northern hemisphere, including southwestern North America, Europe, north Africa, and southwest and central Asia, and, in the southern hemisphere, in South America south to Patagonia. In temperate climates, most Ephedra species grow on shores or in sandy soils with direct sun exposure. Common names in English include Joint-pine, Jointfir, Mormon-tea or Brigham Tea. The Chinese name is mahuang (simplified Chinese: 麻黄; traditional Chinese: 麻黃; pinyin: máhuáng; Wade–Giles: ma-huang; literally "cannabis yellow"). Ephedra is also sometimes called sea grape (from the French raisin de mer), a common name for the flowering plant Coccoloba uvifera.

Ephedra fragilis
Pollen cones
Ephedra distachya: ripe female cones with seeds
Ephedra ciliata seed


Medical 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.[1] 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.

Pollen of Ephedra spp. was found in the Shanidar IV burial site in Iraq, suggesting its use as a medicinal plant dates to over 60,000 years ago.[2] It has been suggested that Ephedra may be the Soma plant of Indo-Iranian religion.[3]


Ephedra distachya
  • Ephedra alata Decne
  • Ephedra altissima Desf.
  • Ephedra americana Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.[4]
  • Ephedra antisyphilitica Berl. ex C.A.Meyer – Clapweed, Erect Ephedra
  • Ephedra aspera Engelm. ex S.Wats. – Boundary Ephedra, Pitamoreal
  • Ephedra boelckei F.A.Roig
  • Ephedra californica S.Wats. – California Ephedra, California Jointfir
  • Ephedra campylopoda C.A.Mey.[4]
  • Ephedra chilensis C.Presl.[4]
  • Ephedra ciliata Fisch. ex C.A.Mey.[4]
  • Ephedra coryi E.L.Reed – Cory's Ephedra
  • Ephedra cutleri Peebles – Navajo Ephedra, Cutler's Ephedra, Cutler Mormon-tea, Cutler's Jointfir
  • Ephedra dahurica Turcz.[5]
  • Ephedra distachya L. – Joint-pine, Jointfir
    • Ephedra distachya subsp. distachya[4]
    • Ephedra distachya subsp. helvetica (C.A.Meyer) Aschers. & Graebn.
    • Ephedra distachya subsp. monostachya (L.) Riedl[4]
  • Ephedra equisetina Bunge – Ma huang
  • Ephedra fasciculata A.Nels. – Arizona Ephedra, Arizona Jointfir, Desert Mormon-tea
  • Ephedra fedtschenkoae Pauls.
  • Ephedra foliata Boiss. ex C.A.Mey.
  • Ephedra fragilis Desf.
    • Ephedra fragilis subsp. campylopoda (C.A.Meyer) Aschers. & Graebn.
  • Ephedra frustillata Miers – Patagonian Ephedra
  • Ephedra funerea Coville & Morton – Death Valley Ephedra, Death Valley Jointfir
  • Ephedra gerardiana Wallich ex C.A.Meyer – Gerard's Jointfir, Shan Ling Ma Huang
  • Ephedra holoptera Riedl
  • Ephedra intermedia Schrenk ex C.A.Meyer
  • Ephedra lepidosperma C.Y.Cheng
  • Ephedra likiangensis Florin
  • Ephedra lomatolepis Shrenk
  • Ephedra macedonica Kos.
  • Ephedra major Host
    • Ephedra major subsp. procera Fischer & C.A.Meyer
  • Ephedra minuta Florin
  • Ephedra monosperma C.A.Meyer
  • Ephedra multiflora Phil. ex Stapf
  • Ephedra nevadensis S.Wats. – Nevada Ephedra, Nevada Jointfir, Nevada Mormon-tea
  • Ephedra pachyclada Boiss.[4]
  • Ephedra pedunculata Engelm. ex S.Wats. – Vine Ephedra, Vine Jointfir
  • Ephedra procera Fisch. & C. A. Mey.[4]
  • Ephedra przewalskii Stapf
    • Ephedra przewalskii var. kaschgarica (B.Fedtsch. & Bobr.) C.Y.Cheng
  • Ephedra regeliana Florin – Xi Zi Ma Huang
  • Ephedra saxatilis (Stapf) Royle ex Florin
  • Ephedra sinica Stapf – Cao Ma Huang, Chinese ephedra
  • Ephedra strobilacea Bunge[4]
  • Ephedra torreyana S.Wats. – Torrey's Ephedra, Torrey's Jointfir, Torrey's Mormon-tea, Cañutillo
  • Ephedra trifurca Torrey ex S.Wats. – Longleaf Ephedra, Longleaf Jointfir, Longleaf Mormon-tea, Popotilla, Teposote
  • Ephedra viridis Coville – Green Ephedra, Green Mormon-tea

Economic botany and alkaloid content

Earliest uses of Ephedra spp. (Ma Huang) for specific illnesses date back to 5000 BC. Ephedrine and isomers were already isolated in 1881 from Ephedra dystachia and characterized by the Japanese organic chemist Nagai Nagayoshi of the 19th century. His work to access Ephedra drug materials to isolate a pure pharmaceutical substance, and the systematic production of semi-synthetic derivatives thereof is relevant still today as the three species Ephedra sinica, Ephedra vulgaris and to a lesser extend Ephedra equisetina are commercially grown in Mainland China as a source for natural ephedrines and isomers for use in pharmacy. The application of botanical extracts from Ma Huang as a stimulant and anorexic drug has no validity in either TCM or modern Western medicine. E. sinica and E. vulgaris carry usually six optically active phenylethylamines, mostly ephedrine and pseudoephedrine with minor amounts of norephedrine, norpseudoephedrine as well as the three methylated analogs. Reliable information on the total alkaloid content of the crude drug is difficult to obtain. Based on HPLC analyses in industrial settings, the concentrations of total alkaloids in dried Herba Ephedra ranged between 1 to 4%, and in some cases up to 6%.[6]

For a review of the alkaloid distribution in different species of the genus Ephedra see Jian-fang Cui (1991).[7] Other American and European species of Ephedra, e.g. Ephedra nevadensis (Mormon tea) have not been systematically assayed; based on unpublished field investigations, they contain very low levels (less than 0.1%) or none at all.[citation needed]

Cultural reference

Represents the provincial flower of Balochistan (Pakistan) (unofficial).[citation needed]


  1. ^ Abourashed E, El-Alfy A, Khan I, Walker L (2003). "Ephedra in perspective--a current review". Phytother Res 17 (7): 703–12. doi:10.1002/ptr.1337. PMID 12916063. 
  2. ^ Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal Flower Burial in Northern Iraq Ralph S. Solecki Science New Series, Vol. 190, No. 4217 (Nov. 28, 1975), pp. 880-881 Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1741776
  3. ^ Rudgley, Richard (1993). The Alchemy of Culture. London: British Museum Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 0-7141-2711-6. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Species in GRIN for genus". www.ars-grin.gov. http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/splist.pl?4296. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  5. ^ Ephedraceae Ephedra dahurica Turcz. International Plant Names Index
  6. ^ Arnold Brossi(ed) (1989), The Alkaloids: Chemistry and Pharmacology Vol. 35 ISBN 0-12-469535-3
  7. ^ Jian-fang Cui et al. (1991). Analysis of alkaloids in Chinese Ephedra species by GC methods. Phytochemical Analysis, Vol 2: 116-119.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • ephedra — genus of low, branchy desert shrubs, 1914, from Modern Latin (1737) from Gk. ephedra, a name given by Pliny to the horsetail, lit. sitting upon, from fem. of ephedros, from epi on (see EPI (Cf. epi )) + hedra seat, base, chair, face of a… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Ephedra — This article is about the use of species of Ephedra in medicine. For botanical information, see Ephedra (genus). For the prescription medication ephedrine, see ephedrine. Bottle of Ephedrine, an alkaloid found in Ephedra Ephedra refers to the… …   Wikipedia

  • ephedra — /i fed reuh, ef i dreuh/, n. any of various plants of the genus Ephedra, growing in dry regions and having branching stems with dry scalelike leaves. [ < NL (Linnaeus) < Gk ephédra the horsetail plant, lit., sitting (upon a place), equiv. to ep… …   Universalium

  • Ephedra fasciculata — Taxobox name = Ephedra fasciculata image width = 260px regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. fasciculata binomial = Ephedra fasciculata binomial authority …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra nevadensis — Taxobox regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. nevadensis binomial = Ephedra nevadensis binomial authority = S. Wats. Ephedra nevadensis (Nevada ephedra) is… …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra lomatolepis — Taxobox image caption = regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. lomatolepis binomial = Ephedra lomatolepis binomial authority = Schrenk Ephedra lomatolepis is …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra distachya — Taxobox name = Ephedra distachya image width = 240px image caption = Ephedra distachya in France regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. distachya binomial =… …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra viridis — Taxobox name = Ephedra viridis image width = 260px image caption = regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. viridis binomial = Ephedra viridis binomial… …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra aspera — Taxobox name = Ephedra aspera image width = 240px image caption = regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. aspera binomial = Ephedra aspera binomial authority …   Wikipedia

  • Ephedra californica — Taxobox name = Ephedra californica image width = 260px regnum = Plantae divisio = Gnetophyta classis = Gnetopsida ordo = Ephedrales familia = Ephedraceae genus = Ephedra species = E. californica binomial = Ephedra californica binomial authority …   Wikipedia

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