Common Name: astragalus, bei qi, huang qi, ogi, hwanggi, milk vetch
Latin Name: Astragalus membranaceus, Astragalus mongholicus
The medical system that originated in China is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of qi and imbalance in the forces of yin and yang. Practices such as herbs, meditation, massage, and acupuncture seek to aid healing by restoring the yin-yang balance and the flow of qi.
Astragalus, a native of China, is also known as Huang-Qi in Chinese. The Chinese name huang-qi means "yellow leader" because it is one of the superior tonic roots in traditional Chinese medicine. Herbalists say it is a mild stimulant. It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.
Astragalus is a member of the pea family, where astragalus is commercially grown.
In the United States, astragalus gained popularity in the 1980s. There are actually over 2,000 species of astragalus; however, the two related species Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus are the ones primarily used for health purposes.
Astragalus as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The primary medicinal parts of the herb are the roots. Astragalus has been used to invigorate vital energy (qi) and in prescriptions for shortness of breath, general weakness, and lack of appetite. Also used as a diuretic, and for the treatment of colds, flu, stomach ulcers, and diabetes. Astragalus is widely used in modern herbal practice in China.
Since 1975, astragalus has also been used in China in cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Conventional cancer treatments reduce the function of the immune system, so astragalus helps return it to normal function.
In the early 1980s, researchers in Houston, Texas, studied the effects of astragalus on nineteen cancer patients and fifteen healthy individuals. A chemical fraction extract of astragalus was found to restore T-cell function in 90 percent of the cancer patients to levels observed in the healthy subjects.
Numerous studies confirm Astragalus as an immunostimulant, and for antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic, and diuretic effects. It is also known to improve stamina. Astragalus has also been used for heart disease.
The herb has therapeutic effects on sodium and water retention in aortocaval fistula-induced heart failure, improving cardiac and renal functions in heart failure.
Most authorities on traditional Chinese medicine recommend taking 9 to 15 grams (3 to 5 tablespoons) of the whole herb per day as a decoction, made by boiling the ground, dried root in water for a few minutes and then brewing the tea. May also be taken in capsules or extract form.
The dried sliced root, which looks like a tongue depressor, is the usual form of the crude herb supplied from Chinese sources. Tinctures, tablets, capsules, powdered herb, extracts, and combination products are found in the American herb market. Astragalus is often combined with ginseng.
Tea Bag: The dried root is administered as 2 to 6 grams daily, and the fluid extract as 4 to 12 milliliters daily. The powdered root capsule (250mg to 500mg) has been administered as two capsules three times daily.
Culinary Uses of Astragalus
Astragalus stimulates the immune system, is rich in flavonoids, amino acids, trace minerals, and polyphenols along with amazing antioxidants.
Early Chinese writings refer to Astragalus as "The Superior Tonic." It ranks as one of China's most important herbal medicines and is commonly used in Chinese cuisine.
Side Effects and Cautions
- Astragalus is considered safe for most adults. Its possible side effects are not well known because astragalus is generally used in combination with other herbs.
- Astragalus may interact with medications that suppress the immune system, such as the drug cyclophosphamide taken by cancer patients and similar drugs taken by organ transplant recipients.
- People should avoid using astragalus species such as "locoweed" that grow in the United States, as these other species may have different effects and side effects.
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