The skinny blue stem/leaves of this plant create striking vertical texture in the garden. The genus ephedra is in the plant division known as gnetophyta, and produces cones instead of fruit. This genus is considered very old and is taxonomically placed with the gymnosperms such as conifers, cycads, and gingkoes.
Many plants in this genus contain the chemicals ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and have long been used in traditional medicines for their stimulant and decongestive properties. It is such a strong stimulant that Ephedra is considered a banned substance by the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Some American species were used to make a strong and stimulating beverage by Native Americans and Mormon pioneers, which led to the common names of Indian Tea and Mormon Tea.
Ephedra sinica has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since at least 5000 BC, and some reports suggest it has been used medicinally much longer than that. In Chinese Medicine it is known as ma huang, which translates literally to ‘cannabis yellow’.