By Liz Holtman, Certified Herbalist
Astragalus, Huang qi, milk vetch
As the autumn chill sets in and days grow shorter, now is a great time to think about herbs to support healthy immune function. One of our best herbal allies to help keep colds and sickness at bay is Astragalus. Astragalus has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. Its name, Huang qi, means "yellow leader." Yellow represents its yellow roots and leader because Astragalus is considered the leader of the tonic herbs. Today this herb is used in China as a spleen tonic, making it useful for lack of appetite, organ prolapse, and fatigue. It also strengthens lung qi, creating a protective energy that helps prevent illness due to external influences. Because of its effectiveness in Chinese medicine, Astragalus has become a staple in the pharmacies of many Western herbalists.
Astragalus is best known for its immune strengthening action on the body. This makes it a great match for folks who have a weakened immunity or those who are prone to frequent colds and flu. It acts as an immune tonic by stimulating the body's natural defenses, which help the body to ward off immune suppressors and infection. The immune enhancing effects of Astragalus will not be noticed immediately after ingestion but will be recognized if taken over a longer period of time. It is important to know that this herb is best used as a preventative and should not be taken in acute illness or infection because it can deepen or worsen the illness.
Astragalus can also be used as a general tonic for the body. It has adaptogenic actions, meaning it helps the body cope with stress, mental and physical. It restores stamina and energy, boosting vitality in weakened and deficient individuals. Not as strong and stimulating as ginseng, Astragalus can be used by a wide variety of people.
Because of its immune strengthening and adaptogenic actions, Astragalus has been used alongside drug therapies to reduce their toxicity. These therapies include steroids, chemotherapy, radiation, and other anticancer therapies. It has been used to strengthen and support the body in an effort to offset the suppressive nature of those therapies.
As we approach cold season this November, Astragalus will be my herb of choice. With this change of seasons afoot, now is the time to strengthen and build our immunity. Here's to a healthy winter!
Astragalus is not compatible with immune suppressing drugs or if dealing with organ transplant issues.
Preparations & Applications
Since Astragalus is a root, it is best prepared as a decoction. A decoction is made by adding one tablespoon of the root to 8 ounces of water in a covered pot. Simmer the root for twenty minutes and then strain. It is important to note that the water should not boil but should be a low simmer. One of my favorite ways to prepare Astragalus is by simply adding it to soups and stews. The sliced root, which looks like a creamy yellow tongue depressor, can also be chewed on.
Winter Thrive Soup Mix
1 part Astragalus
1 part Reishi
1 part Thyme
1 part Nettles
1/2 part Rosehips
1/2 part Rosemary
1/2 part Oregano
1/2 part Kelp
This mix can be used as a base for soups and stews. Simply add a half-cup of the mix to a half-gallon (64 ounces) of water. Simmer covered for an hour to four hours, strain, and use stock as your soup or stew base. If you don't have enough time on your hands, fill a large muslin bag with a half-cup of the mix and add straight to your soup or stew. The longer the bag steeps the better. This would be a great soup to make once a week to help strengthen and support your immune system! Remember to never take Astragalus in cases of acute illness.
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Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
Herbal Medicine, Trends and Traditions, Charles Kane
Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, David Winston and Steven Mains