Herbalist use Ma Huang in China everyday to relieve congestion and to help fight a cold. Sadly, in the last few years it has been banned in the United States due to the misuse and misunderstanding of its medicinal properties.
The problem began when Ma Huang had been marketed as a weight lost supplement due to its qualities as an appetite suppressant. However, using Ma Huang as a weight loss supplement is like using a car to listen to the radio; its purpose and potential is vastly misunderstood.
In those instances where the Ma Huang was inappropriately and incorrectly marketed for its stimulant properties, consumers experienced dangerous side effects such as an increased heart rate, profuse perspiration, and in a tragic instance, death.
When I worked at White Moon Healing Acupuncture Clinic in Chicago, I used to mix Chinese Herbal formulas and tinctures. Ma Huang was a common ingredient in many compounds. Ma Huang hails from the plant genus “Ephedra” whose extract “ephedrine” is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to remove dampness from the body. In the hands of a trained herbalist, Ma Huang’s healing properties are used to bring the patient back to wellness. When a patient receives acupuncture oftentimes the Practitioner will put together an “herbal formula” to supplement the acupuncture treatment. The formula is an individualized mixture of herbs meant to detox and tonify the organs, stimulate balance among the systems of the body, and bolster the immune system.
In a formula, Ma Huang is included to act as a drying agent to clear out dampness such as phlegm, a runny nose, or gurgley cough. My acupuncturist used it in several formulas, and while my appetite did not lesson, my congestion did clear up.
Used correctly by a trained herbalist who understands its medicinal properties, Ma Huang, like most every other Chinese herbs, works gently, and without harmful side effects. Again, its main use in Traditional Chinese Medicine is as a drying agent to clear dampness from the body.
It is unfortunate that the misuse Ma Huang in over-the-counter products caused harm to unsuspecting consumers, and was left with its reputation tainted. Like anything else that is employed in a manner not intended for its use, Ma Huang can be dangerous. Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners know how to use this herb to heal and not harm.