The medicinal power of sea grape

Sea grape grows in southern Europe and some parts of Asia. It is a plant that can grow to a height of 50 centimeters. The plant is best known for the fact that it contains ephedrine, a stimulant drug. Ephedra was sold as a nutritional supplement until 2005 and was included in herbal mixtures with herbal ecstasy that were available at smart shops. However, ephedrine is a dangerous substance; so dangerous that it should only be used for medicinal purposes on the prescription of a herbal therapist. Sea grape is still used as a medicine in phytotherapy, albeit to a very limited extent and for as short a time as possible. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing of sea grape / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)


  • Dangers of sea grape
  • Sea grape as a supplement
  • Naming
  • History of use of sea grape
  • Active substances
  • Sea grape as medicine for the lungs
  • Sea grape, blood vessels and blood pressure
  • Safe dose of sea grape

Dangers of sea grape

There are numerous contraindications of sea grape. For example, it should definitely not be taken during exercise; that can be a deadly combination. In addition, there are many medications that should not be combined with sea grape. Even more dangerous is ephedrine in nutritional supplements, slimming products and stimulants from smart shops. This last category is only allowed to sell seeds from the ephedra plant because legislation has become stricter in recent times. However, this offers the opportunity to experiment with this plant yourself and that should not be the intention.

Sea grape as a supplement

Ephedrine derived from Ephedra distachya or sea grape has long been used as a dietary supplement, especially by people who wanted to lose weight, weight lifters and body builders. Originally, this herb was never intended for that purpose. This herb was prescribed by Chinese and Indian doctors to lung patients, but because it was put on the market as a supplement and ended up in the open market, the result was that people started using too much of it. That has put the sea grape in a bad light. Nowadays, sea grape supplements are banned.


The Latin name of sea grape is Ephedra distachya. In Dutch this plant is called sea grape. Ephedra vulgaris is a Latin synonym. Besides sea grape, Ephedra sinica , Ephedra equisetana and Ephedra gerardina are used in phytotherapy for the same purpose . In Dutch, zeegraif is also called zeegraifje. Distachya literally means ‘two-headed’. According to some, Ephedra means: ‘Situated nearby’. But it can also be ephe=ephesians and dra=dragon. Then the entire word would mean ‘Two-headed Ephesians dragon’. Ephesians are a people from the Bible who are known for the fact that they believed in God but did not yet participate in the divine activity. They stood, as it were, between two lives: the earthly life and the divine life. The term Ephesians itself therefore refers to a people who live in duplicity or, if you like, two-headedness. The Ephesians lived in the area where the plant originally grows.

Sea grape / Source: Le.Loup.Gris, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

History of use of sea grape

Ephedra has been used successfully in Chinese medicine for at least 5,000 years, especially for colds and lung problems. The Chinese doctors prescribed low doses for a short period of time so that there were never any problems with side effects. Ephedra is a medicine in Ayurveda, Indian traditional medicine. On the Indian continent it is mainly used for heart problems. Ephedrine was first isolated by Japanese researcher Nagayoshi Nagai in 1885.

Active substances

About 3% of the plant parts consist of ephedrine. However, this ratio varies from season to season, so it is not advisable to consume the plant for its ephedrine content; After all, you can quickly get too much of it. The main components of sea grape are: the protoalkaloids L-ephedrine, D-pseudoephedrine, LN-methylephedrine, L-norephedrine, DL-methylpseudoephedrine, D-norpseudoephedrine, ephedroxane, maokonine, transtortine and ephedradineA-D. In addition, the sea grape contains the flavonoids proanthocyanidols, diterpenes, mahuannin A and ephedrannin A.

Sea grape as medicine for the lungs

Sea grape stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, it widens the airways. You can breathe more freely through the nose and sinuses because the blood vessels of the mucous membrane contract slightly. In phytotherapy, sea grape is often offered in combination with primrose, which ensures that mucus is coughed up better, and thyme, which has a disinfectant effect. Sea grape is used by herbalists for:

Sea grape / Source: Le.Loup.Gris, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

  • Asthma,
  • Spastic bronchitis or bronchitis with spastic cough,
  • emphysema,
  • Sinusitis or sinusitis,
  • Rhinitus allergica or hay fever,
  • Rhinitus or nose cold,
  • Excessive nasal discharge and nasal congestion.

Sea grape, blood vessels and blood pressure

Sea grape constricts the blood vessels due to the ephedrine contained in it. This is also the reason why it should not be used during exercise, because physical exertion actually dilates the blood vessels. Ephedrine increases blood pressure, which exercise itself does; therefore, the use of ephedrine can lead to overload of the heart. In phytotherapy it is sometimes given to non-athletes if they suffer from the following indications:

  • Low bloodpressure,
  • Weak circulation.

Sea grape supplements are prohibited. Sometimes 75mg to even 395mg were found in a supplement. These are dangerously high percentages.

Safe dose of sea grape

There are so many contraindications of sea grape that medicine should be taken only on prescription from a doctor. Interactions are possible with other medicines; Your herbal therapist can inform you about this. Great care must be taken with long-term use of sea grape because ephedrine is an addictive substance. Ephedrine has many side effects. It is true that sea grape has much fewer side effects than ephedrine. This is because other substances in sea grape counteract the negative effects of ephedrine. In fact, ephedra herb is a more harmonious mixture of substances than many supplements. Below are the therapeutic doses for sea grape.

  • To prevent asthma: Two cups of tea with a tablespoon of ephedra herb per day.
  • During asthma: 30 drops of mother tincture three times per day.