Ma huang, Chinese ephedra, was used to treat asthma,or at least wheezing, five thousand years ago. (http://www.healthcentral.com/peoplespharmacy/408/20658.html)
With all the bad press and the FDA trying to ban of some forms of Chinese herbal medicine, we as Chinese Medicine practitioners have to fight to prove that the herbs have truly healing medicinal properties when used appropriately in the correct combination.
If you haven't read about the girl who died of liver failure due to use of the drug by the name of Jin Bu Huan, then you should read this article and check out Chinese Medicine Notes on the story. Yael sites a lot of good resources and sites for more information about the drug (which is NOT an herb). The Mayo clinic and healthcentral.com also have information on ephedra.
At OCOM and most TCM schools, we study herbs for 3 years, then take an extensive and difficult herbal board. So it's disheartening when I try to fill a patients formula and realize that there is no bulk form of ephedra because it's unavailable. The correct dosage and appropriate administration of the herb is safe for both kids and adults, and it's a main and very effective ingredient in a lot of asthma formulas.
As with any news article you read, be sure to check your sources of information. Especially when it comes to herbs and drugs! A lot of unnecessary side effects can occur if too much of an herb is taken (just like a pharmaceutical). Be informed about what you are taking, and discuss your medications with a knowledgeable practitioner.