Ephedra is a genus of gymnosperm shrubs, the only genus in the family Ephedraceae.
Plants of the Ephedra genus, including Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang) and others, have traditionally been used by indigenous people for a variety of medicinal purposes.
Ma Huang is a Chinese herb. Hardy to 27 F. degrees. This shrub produces numerous slender jointed stems with virtually no leaves. Its cone-like fruits are red, fleshy and bitter to the taste.
Ephedra nevadensis is a related species that grows wild in the American Southwest and is widely called "Mormon tea." Ma Huang is used as a stimulant for the central nervous system and heart muscle. Chinese herbalists use Ma Huang during the early stages of respiratory infections. Unlike using the isolated or synthesized ephedrine, using the whole plant in alternative medicine is much more effective and rarely gives rise to serious side-effects.