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Why Do Chinese Call the Ephedra Herb the ‘Ask-For-Trouble’ Herb?

Ephedra: the 'Ask-for-Trouble' herb. (Image:  Alex Lomas  via   wikimedia  /  CC BY 2.0 )
Ephedra: the 'Ask-for-Trouble' herb. (Image: Alex Lomas via wikimedia / CC BY 2.0 )

A long time ago, an elderly Chinese herbalist accepted a disciple to help with his business. The herbalist wanted someone to pass down his knowledge to, given that he had no son. But having studied for only a few months, the disciple began to show impatience. He wanted to open a clinic of his own. The herbalist was disappointed because he believed the disciple was not ready to take on his own patients.

The herbalist warned his disciple:

But the disciple was caught up in his own plans and barely heard what his master was saying.

One day, a local judge brought his son to the disciple’s new clinic. The son was sweating profusely. The disciple used the leaves of a plant to treat the young patient. He wanted to produce a quick result so he used a huge amount of the herb. However, after the treatment, the patient began sweating even more and his arms and legs became as cold as ice.

Chinese Ephedra sinica is also known as Ma Huang, which means numb and yellow because it produces numb sensations and is yellow. (Image: Hanabishi via flicker / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Chinese Ephedra sinica is also known as Ma Huang, which means numb and yellow because it produces numb sensations and is yellow. (Image: Hanabishi via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The judge immediately sent his son to the elderly herbalist, who told the judge that his former disciple had used the wrong part of the herb. He should’ve used the roots instead of the leaves to treat this case.

The judge was very angry. He summoned the young herbalist and said: “In treating patients without enough knowledge, you are asking for trouble.” Since then, the herb became known as the “Ask-for-Trouble” herb.

Chinese Ephedra sinica is also known as Ma Huang, which means numb and yellow because it produces numb sensations and is yellow.

Ephedra has long been used for respiratory problems in China. Experiments have shown that asthma sufferers are able to take deeper breaths and do more rigorous exercise after taking ephedra. As an asthma remedy, it’s often mixed with licorice or ginseng, expectorants that also help to clear the lungs.

Ephedra was also used as an ingredient in certain diet pills. However, it has been known to cause high blood pressure and heart problems. Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned its use in the United States.

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