Ephedra is a small shrub about one metre high. It has many branched stems, straight branches and minute leaves, reduced to two-toothed sheaths or covering. The dried stems of ephedra, collected in autumn, constitute the drug. The trade name is based on its scientific name.
The Ayurvedic name of this herb is somlata. Many Ayurvedic physicians believe that ephedra is the same herb from which somras was prepared in the vedic age and which is widely mentioned in ancient ayurvedic texts like Charaka Sushruta.. There is, however, no positive evidence to justify such belief.
The ephedra is indigenous to India and contains alkaloids. The principal alkaloid is ephedrine which is similar to adrenaline in pharmacological action. The other alkaloid contained in the herb is pseudo-ephedrine.
No drug of recent years has attracted so much attention from the medical profession as ephedrine, an extract prepared from the herb ephedra, by allopathic pharmacists. It has earned a great reputation as an instantaneous cure for asthma and some other diseases. Ayurvedic physicians, however, maintain that the use of the herb in the original form is safer than ephedrine.
The main use of ephedra is in the treatment of asthma, particularly bronchial asthma. The powder of the herb in doses ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 grams should be swallowed with water in such symptoms. It will give immediate relief by facilitating unrestricted discharge of the accumulated phlegm and clearance of the air passage, followed by restful sleep.
The powder as well as infusion of ephedra is useful in acute rheumatism. Its use for 10 to 12 days consecutively will relieve painful, inflamed joints and leave the patient healthy. It, however, is not of much value in chronic cases. Ephedra stands as an infallible remedy for rheumatic troubles where allopathic medicines like salicylate of soda, aspirin and antipyrin fail to produce any visible result. At the same time, it does not produce any side-effects on the heart. It is a good stimulant for cardiac results.
Ephedra is an excellent stimulant for the heart. It has proved very effective especially in cases where the heart is affected by infections of pneumonia and diphtheria.
Ephedra has some effect on the urinary bladder. It has proved especially useful in controlling night wetting in children.
Ephedra has been used successfully in several other disorders like hay-fever and rashes of allergic origin. Several preparations based on ephedrine are being used today in medicine. These include nasal sprays used in sinusitis, asthmatic attacks and inflammation of the mucous membrane.
Precautions: The use of ephedra in large doses should be avoided as it may lead to nausea, sweating or certain skin ailments.
Methods for Use: The herb can be taken either in the form of powder or in the form of decoction. Its powder provides excellent results if given every morning and evening with water or honey. In case of decoction, about 12 grams of crushed ephedra plant should be put in a litre of water and evaporated to 500 ml. The decoction should then be strained and preserved in a tightly corked bottle for use when needed. It should be administered in 30 ml dose daily.