Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine and is widely believed to restore health on all levels – mental, physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual. A. membranaceus is known as Huang Qi in China, which means “yellow leader,” referring to the root’s yellow color and its long-standing elite classification among Chinese medicine practitioners.
Many ancient Chinese medical texts list astragalus as a “Heaven Class” herb, which is the highest of three herbal classifications based on potency. It is still considered one of the top 50 tonic herbs in the Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia. A. membranaceus was introduced to North America in 1925, but according to herbalist Stephen Buhner it wasn’t widely known and used until the 1960s when Eastern herbs became popular among western herbalists.
Astragalus is now one of the primary immune tonic herbs in the Western herbal pharmacopoeia. It’s taken in soups, teas, extracts and capsules, and is often combined with other herbs such as reishi, codonopsis, licorice and dang quai to amplify its benefits. When sliced lengthwise, the root slices can be easily used in broths (see recipe at the end of the article). The shredded root is often used in teas and to make tinctures.
There are over 2,000 astragalus species around the world! Astragalus propinquus, Astragalus membranaceus, and Astragalus mongholicus are the species typically used. Common names include milk vetch (for most species), locoweed (for some N. American species), and goat’s-thorn (for A. gummifer and A. tragacantha). A. americus is the North American milk vetch that many herbalists believe has the same properties as the more commonly used varieties.
Astragalus plants are perennials with furry stems that can grow up to 36 inches tall. The 12-to-18 pairs of leaflets showcase small elongated spiked yellow flowers. The roots are harvested in the fourth year. The commonly used varieties are native to Mongolia, Korea, and China.
Some call astragalus the “young person’s ginseng,” referring to its ability to increase vitality and mental focus. Like other adaptogens, astragalus invites balance where needed. In times of stress and anxiety, the herb can have a grounding and calming effect. When energy is depleted, the herb can increase energy and stamina. Astragalus is reported to bring balance to the immune, nervous and hormonal systems. It increases chi, or life-force energy.
SUPPORTS HEALTHY IMMUNE RESPONSE
Astragalus is believed to warm and tone the wei chi, or the protective layer of energy just below the skin. Strengthening the wei chi is said to help protect us from the cold, especially during the seasonal temperature shifts. Astragalus is often found in immune formulas, typically paired with other nourishing and preventative herbs such as elderberry, echinacea, nettles, reishi, maitake and shitake mushrooms. WishGarden uses astragalus in their adult and children’s Daily Immune formulas.
According to nineteenth-century government records and newspapers, a man named Li Ching Yuen, who consumed astragalus every day, lived to be 256 years old! Daoists in China have long cherished astragalus as a longevity herb. Today, we know this to be true from scientific research. We now know that there are constituents in astragalus that promote healthy cell replication and cellular DNA repair.
SUPPORTS HEALTHY RESPIRATORY AND CIRCULATORY SYSTEMS
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it’s believed that astragalus protects lung chi (lung energy), and modern research has confirmed that the herb does support healthy lung function. Various studies have also shown that astragalus supports healthy heart function, improving circulation and blood flow. It also nourishes the blood, due to its high level of bioavailable iron.
HEALTHY INFLAMMATORY RESPONSE AND YOUTHFUL SKIN
As we mentioned before, astragalus is believed to nourish the wei chi, or the protective energy that circulates just below the surface of the skin. This energy not only protects us during the change of seasons and against cold weather, but it also gives a glowing vitality to our actual skin. It’s believed that the herb’s ability to encourage healthy cell replication and to reduce inflammation also contribute to it effectiveness in promoting healthier, more youthful skin. The raw powdered herb is often used topically to reduce signs of aging and bring suppleness to the skin.
IMMUNE-NOURISHING HERB BLEND FOR BROTH: A RECIPE
While making your own bone or vegetable broth, add the following directly into the broth while it simmers, or contain the herbs in an organic cotton or muslin bag for easy straining.
- 5 astragalus root slices (the root cut lengthwise to look like tongue depressors)
- 3 reishi slices
- 5-10 dried maitake mushrooms
- 5-10 dried shitake mushrooms
- 1/8 cup dried nettles
- 1/8 cup parsley
Herbal vade Mecum by Gazmend Skenderi
Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Dr. Aviva Romm
Writer Amy Malek, CCN, CCH, INHC is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Clinical Herbalist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Flower Essence Practitioner. She discovered her love for plants in the Sonoran Desert while living in Tucson, AZ. She has been studying plants of the Mountain West and Southwest for 10 years. Her many teachers include Paul Bergner, Rosemary Gladstar, Dr. Aviva Romm, Lisa Ganora, Kat MacKinnon, Erin Smith, John Slattery and Charles Kane. Her career is divided between Holistic Health, Graphic/Web Design and Marketing/Social Media Consulting. She is currently WishGarden’s Social Media Coordinator. She lives in Boulder County, CO. She enjoys wildcrafting and growing her own medicinal plants and making a variety of herbal remedies. You can learn more about her practice on her website, www.wholeheart-wellness.com.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.