Ma Huang: Regulations and Substitutes

Ma Huang Regulations

Ma Huang, or Ephedra, has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years but despite it being one of the most important herbs in the Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia, it is controlled within the UK.

Ma Huang Regulations

Ma Huang is a pungent, slightly bitter and warm herb and is used to target the lung and bladder. Ephedra is a warm herb used to treat Wind-Cold conditions such as coughs and asthma and to induce sweating and combat wheezing. It is an extremely potent herb and cannot be used alone as it is considered too harsh and extreme and requires the moderating effects of other herbs.

It was misused in the West as a weight loss herb as it can speed up metabolism and suppress appetite. The herb is also a source of amphetamine and can be a strong stimulant. Ephedra has caffeine-like properties and can cause high blood pressure, restlessness, tremors, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, and difficulty falling asleep.

Due to the potency of Ma Huang, it is imperative that you use it with caution and ensure you are correctly prescribing the herb. In 2012, the Human Medicines Regulation controlled the amount of Ephedra an individual can take per day. The new legislations state that only qualified healthcare professionals may prescribe the herb and patients cannot take more than 0.6gram per single dose and the maximum total daily dosage is 1.8grams. Furthermore, the herb is completely restricted within the EU and USA.

Ma Huang Substitutions

Ma Huang may be one of the most useful herbs, but its usage is controlled and must be recommended with caution. It is essential to find suitable alternatives if you cannot use it in your practice. Substitutes can be effective in most cases.

One of the most common substitutes is Zi Su Ye. Like Ma Huang, Zi Su Ye is a pungent and warm herb which targets the lung. It is acrid and can disperse while inducing sweating like Ma Huang but is not as strong. It can be used instead as its aroma promotes the movement of Lung and Spleen Qi, harmonises the Middle and calms the fetus which Ma Huang cannot do. If you choose to use Zi Su Ye, you will need to use around 20-30g of Zi Su Ye in substitution for 6-9g of Ma Huang.

However, due to the high potency of Ephedra, one single herb is often insufficient. Combinations of several herbs may be required to match the effects of Ma Huang, and different substitutions may be used for the various functions of Ma Huang.

Bai Guo & Sang Bai Pi – Wheezing from asthma
Gui Zhi & Fang Feng – To promote sweating
Sang Ye & Sheng Jiang – Cough due to common cold
Gui Zhi & Huo Xiang – Wind-Cold Exterior Patterns
Su Zi, Xing Ren & Huang Qin – Wheezing from Lung Heat
Gan Jiang, Qian Hu & Fu Ling – Wheezing from congested fluids
Shu Di Huang & Fu Zi – Cough and wheezing from deficient Kidney Yin
Jing Jie Sui & Fang Feng – Patients with weak Qi

If you would like to purchase any of the herbs mentioned, please visit our online shop. If you require more information, please contact for more information.

Disclaimer: Please note that this information is intended for qualified herbalists or healthcare professionals only. If you are a patient, please consult your practitioner for a diagnosis as these recommendations may not be suitable for you. If you would like us to recommend a herbalist who uses Phoenix Medical products, contact us at and we will gladly assist you.

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