Astragalus Root Herbal Medicine
One of the most important herbs in the world, Astragalus has been recognized as a superb and potent immune system tonic by modern researchers. Astragalus has been used for over 2000 years to strengthen the body as a whole. Astragalus is believed by the Oriental people to strengthen muscle and improve metabolic functions.
Astragalus is said to have another effect on the “surface” of the body—that is, it is used to tonify the “Protective Qi,” known as Wei Qi in Chinese. This Protective Qi is a special kind of energy which circulates just under the skin and in the muscle. Protective Qi is a Yang energy.
Protective Qi circulates in the subcutaneous tissues providing suppleness to the flesh and adaptive energy to the skin. This function is essential to life
An important effect of Astragalus is in its ability to fortify the “Upright Qi.” Upright Qi is the energy allocated by the body to maintain upright posture and to maintain the position of the organs in their healthy position in their battle with gravity. As one gets older, or if one experiences chronic fatigue or exhaustion, or during illness, this Upright Qi is easily depleted resulting in the sinking, or “prolapse,” of organs.
Astragalus enhances the function of the skin to eliminate toxins. It is commonly used to help sores in the skin to come to a head and suppurate, and thus to heal more quickly and effectively.
Astragalus has a mild diuretic action and helps to relieve excessive sweating. It is helpful in treating loose stools, chronic diarrhea and chronic or recurring colds. If a cold lasts too long it can cause a general fatigue syndrome that can itself become chronic. Astragalus is very useful for people who just can’t seem to shake a cold, and Astragalus can replace the Qi necessary to regain full strength.
Studies conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center at the University of Houston, the world’s largest cancer research institute, demonstrated clearly that Astragalus improves the immune response in humans undergoing radiation and chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. Patients taking Astragalus during such treatment tend to have far fewer side effects and to recover at a higher and faster rate.
An interesting new area of research on Astragalus concerns its potential as a male fertility agent. Astragalus has been proved to stimulate sperm motility.
Other Common Names
Page Number In Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs
Qi and Blood
Organ Meridian Systems
Spleen, Lungs and Three Burning Spaces
Tonify Qi, regulate immune functions, strengthen resistance, build blood, strengthen “upright Qi,”
Astragalus ranks as one of the most potent health tonics in the world. For over two thousand years, it has been one of the most popular tonic herbs used in the Orient, and remains so.
Astragalus is said to strengthen the primary energy of the body and to tonify the three burning spaces, or in other words, to strengthen all metabolic, respiratory and eliminative functions. As an energizer, Astragalus is famed for its strengthening effects on the outside of the body, in particular to the musculature. It is therefore beneficial in particular to younger adults, who tend to be physically active and require external abundant external energy. In China, Astragalus is sometimes considered superior to Ginseng as an energizer for younger people. Astragalus is used to strengthen the legs and arms, and is commonly used by people who work outdoors, especially in the cold, because of its strengthening and warming nature.
Astragalus is said to have another effect on the “surface” of the body—that is, it is used to tonify the “protective Qi,” known as Wei Qi in Chinese. This protective Qi is a special kind of energy which circulates just under the skin and in the muscle. Wei Qi is a yang energy and is the yang counterpart to the yin (nutritional) energy flowing through the meridian system, nourishing our tissues and organs. This nutritional energy flowing in the meridians in known as Ying Qi. Both Wei Qi and Ying Qi are generated in the Lungs after the Lungs have extracted Qi from the air we are breathing, and after the Stomach and Spleen have extracted Qi from the food we have eaten. The air and food energies are united in the Lungs to generate the “essential energy.”
Ying and Wei are the two components of the essential energy. Wei Qi circulates in the subcutaneous tissues providing suppleness to the flesh and adaptive energy to the skin. This function is considered essential to life to Asian health practitioners. It is believed that this adaptive energy at the surface of the body is our first line of defense against the offensive forces of nature.. It is the Wei Qi which provides the energy of the flesh to perspire, produce goose bumps or to shiver. The Wei Qi controls the opening and closing of the pores. It Wei Qi is deficient, exhausted or blocked, environmental forces such as heat, cold, dampness and wind (the so-called “vicious energies”) can easily penetrate through the flesh and injure the tissues lying below, including the blood and inner organs. If the Wei Qi is sufficient, strong and unblocked, the body’s resistance is formidable and one can easily adapt to difficult environmental conditions. Astragalus, by tonifying the Lungs, helps the body generate an abundance of free flowing Wei Qi, thus fortifying the defense energy of the body. Consistent consumption of Astragalus is thus used to protect the body and has traditionally been called “the Great Protector.”
Astragalus helps regulate several other important functions. It is used as a blood tonic and is quite effective when combined with primary blood tonic herbs such as Dang Gui, San Qi, Polygonum, etc. Astragalus helps to regulate fluid metabolism, and those who consume it regularly are said to rarely suffer from fluid retention and bloating. Combined with Licorice root, Astragalus helps regulate blood sugar levels.
An important effect of Astragalus is in its ability to fortify the “Upright Qi.” Upright Qi is the energy allocated by the body to maintain upright posture and to maintain the position of the organs in their healthy position in their battle with gravity. As one gets older, or if one experiences chronic fatigue or exhaustion, or during illness, this Upright Qi is easily depleted resulting in the sinking, or “prolapse,” of organs. This can happen almost anywhere in the body, but it is common in the abdominal and pelvic cavities where organs tend to sink. Astragalus provides an abundance of this Upright Qi. Thus Astragalus is used for such conditions as hernias and prolapse of the uterus and stomach, as well as the inability to stand straight due to fatigue.
Astragalus enhances the function of the skin to eliminate toxins. It is commonly used to help sores in the skin to come to a head and suppurate, and thus to heal more quickly and effectively. Astragalus is used by Chinese doctors to help slow-healing sores and wounds heal more quickly. All this activity is related to the Wei Qi which is circulating in the skin, which also improves blood circulation according to the rule of “Qi leads Blood.”
Astragalus has a mild diuretic action and helps to relieve excessive sweating. It is helpful in treating loose stools, chronic diarrhea and chronic or recurring colds. If a cold lasts too long it can cause a general fatigue syndrome that can itself become chronic. Astragalus is very useful for people who just can’t seem to shake a cold, and Astragalus can replace the Qi necessary to regain full strength. In China, there are patent medicines consisting solely or primarily of Astragalus which are targeted specifically at treating low grade chronic colds.
Astragalus, like many of the major tonic herbs, has a very complex constituent profile. Primarily, the active constituents of Astragalus consist of triterpene glycosides, polysaccharides and flavonoids. Astragalus also contains numerous amino acids, trace elements and various other components.
Astragalus extracts have been proven to have potent immunomodulating effects in both animals and humans. Water extracts of Astragalus significantly enhance macrophage activity and reduce the activity of suppresser T-cells. The herbal extract significantly increases natural killer cell cytotoxicity. It significantly helps antibody response and increases T-helper cell activity. Studies conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center at the University of Houston, the world’s largest cancer research institute, demonstrated clearly that Astragalus improves the immune response in humans undergoing radiation and chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. The FDA, however, has not approved the use of Astragalus for this purpose, although it is approved for exactly that purpose in many other countries. It tends to protect the white cells from leucopenia (destruction of white blood cells due to the chemotherapy or radiation) and maintains the healthy activity of these immune cells. Patients taking Astragalus during such treatment tend to have far fewer side effects and to recover at a higher rate. Astragalus is often used with Ganoderma, Siberian Ginseng, Cordyceps and/or Gynostemma in this fu zheng therapy.
Astragalus extracts have been demonstrated to have significant hematopoietic (red blood cell-building) activity.
The primary active constituents of Astragalus, the triterpene glycosides, are saponins similar to the saponins in Ginseng and Gynostemma, though all of the Astragalus saponins (triterpene glycosides) have their own chemical identities. There are over 30 such saponins in Astragalus membranaceus, for example, of which many are unique to that species. The “total Astragaloside” fraction of Astragalus is an extremely potent health agent. Studies have demonstrated that the total Astragaloside fraction, has a bipolar, biphasic, double direction activity. It is an extremely potent immune modulator, capable of building the immune response while suppressing excessive immune activity, as occurs in autoimmune conditions (including allergies and arthritis). In addition, the total Astragaloside fraction has an extremely potent antioxidant activity, hundreds of times stronger than vitamin E, and stronger than that of grape seed extract, Ginkgo biloba and pine bark extract. New extraction technology allows this total Astragaloside fraction to be extracted. The new high potency Astragalus extract is without doubt among the most potent health tonics in the world today.
The polysaccharides found in Astragalus are also extremely potent immune enhancers. However, these polysaccharides have been shown to be poorly absorbed in the intestines and therefor have a low bioavailability. Pharmacological studies have shown that injected polysaccharides and injected Astragalus glycosides have approximately equivalent potency relating to the immune system. However, the glycoside component is five times more potent than the polysaccharides when consumed orally.
Both polysaccharide and saponin fractions have shown liver protective action. However, the liver protective action of the saponin fraction is more powerful due to higher bioavailability.
Astragalus contains GABA (g-aminobutyric acid) and has been shown to have a corresponding hypotensive effect as a direct result of that component.
An interesting new area of research on Astragalus concerns its potential as a male fertility agent. Seventy Chinese herbs were studied to determine their effect on sperm motility. Only Astragalus proved to stimulate this activity.
Astragalus is rich in zinc and selenium. They form components of molecules which have shown powerful anti-cancer activity. They are also responsible for Astragalus’s ability to treat osteoarthritis deforms. Astragalus is used clinically to treat cancer and osteoarthritis in China.
Astragalus has been found to induce the production in human beings of both b and g-interferon.
Preparation and Utilization
Astragalus may be added to almost any tonic formulation designed to strengthen the entire body. It is superb for young or old people, male or female. It can be the main ingredient or a secondary ingredient. My recommendation here is to consume Astragalus every day, to some degree or another.
1. Ginseng Root and Licorice Root to tonify the primal qi
2. Dang Gui to tonify blood and to improve blood circulation at the surface of the body
3. Cinnamon to fortify the flesh, prevent excessive sweating and beautify the skin
4. Dang Gui and Licorice Root strengthen menstrual functions, relieve menstrual and other lower abdominal pain
5. Schizandra and Ophiopogon to tonify the Lung qi and yin
6. Ganoderma to tonify the Lungs, Spleen, Heart and Liver and to protect the body from invasion — this is the premier protection entity in Chinese herbalism
Varieties and Grading
Astragalus is one of the premium Chinese Tonic herbs that has been a staple of traditional Chinese herbalism for three thousand years. Thus many varieties are available at any Chinese herb shop, ranging in quality and price from very inexpensive to relatively expensive. Prices range from a few dollars per pound up to around $60 a pound for the best sliced Astragalus. The Astragalus we get in America has been sliced and pressed, which makes it appear bigger than it actually was in the ground, and also makes it easier to cook or otherwise extract.
If you compare the best Astragalus with the low end material, it is easy to note a fineness to the quality of the better root slices. Slices that are supple and pliable are more desirable than dry, brittle slices. It usually indicates that the herb is fresher and was more carefully prepared. High quality Astragalus has an inner core which is distinctly earthy-yellow. Lesser grades are characterized by a non-distinct whitish-beige core and rough texture. However, some unscrupulous suppliers actually dye this inside core yellow. The yellow core is essential, but make sure it is natural (it won’t turn a wet tissue Ritz yellow).
Good quality Astragalus has a sweet flavor that is pleasant when cooked in tea. Lower grade Astragalus is bland or tasteless, and has a starchy taste.
My recommendation: buy middle or high priced Astragalus. Herb shops don’t sell the poor quality stuff for high prices because too many people are experts in Astragalus. At least buy a middle grade, and preferably buy the best—you’ll notice the difference.
Being in the legume family, it tends to produce flatulence in those who are prone to this distressing symptom when they eat legumes such as peas. If this is the case, use less and try adding herbs like cardamom to the tea. It should not be used during the acute phase of the flu. There are no known side effects associated with high technology standardized Astragalus extract.
Astragalus has been used in China as a tonic herb since deep antiquity. It was described as a superior herb in the Spirit Farmer’s Materia Medica, where it was described as an herb which prolonged the years of life without aging.” Since that time, Astragalus has been one of the most popular and highly respected tonic herbs, in the class of Ginseng and Ganoderma, though more commonly available.