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Hello fellow plant people!

Today I am going to be focusing on an herb that is an excellent addition to your regular diet and herbal medicine regimen, as it not only helps you fight off any colds or infections, but helps to prevent them from happening in the first place! This immune system-supporting herb is none other than the wonderful Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus). Known to be one of the safer herbal remedies one can take, Astragalus balances that gentle disposition with a potent tonic and antioxidant effect on the human body, making it an ideal herbal supplement for your day to day life. Continue reading below to learn more about this helpful herb!

Astragalus’ Traditional Uses

In Chinese lore and traditional medical practice, Chi is the vital force of the body, the fundamental current that runs through our selves and everything in this world, connecting and linking us inextricably. When one dies, the Chi leaves the body, thus distinguishing a corpse from a living being. Astragalus, known in China as Huang Qi, is considered a Chi tonic, meaning it aids in bringing harmony and balance back to the body’s energy system, helping us re-align ourselves when life throws us curveballs. This ancient TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) definition greatly informs our modern-day understanding of astragalus, as western science has come to learn that the herb is an effective immune support aid, bringing the body back to equilibrium when stress, physical or intangible, threatens the self. As Witchipedia points out, since “astragalus is a relatively recent addition to western pharmacopia, it was not given planetary associations by the old alchemists and doesn’t feature in most western pagan herblore.”

Identifying Astragalus  

Astragalus is a member of the pea family, and looks very much like the 1,000’s of members in that large family do. I don’t recommend attempting to wildcraft this herb in the US, as you are very unlikely to come across astragalus since it is native only to the Asian continent; additionally, some of the Western cousins in the pea family are highly poisonous, so hedge your bets and purchase astragalus from a responsible online source, or grow it yourself! Characteristically fern-like in foliage, the stems are lightly-haired with leaves made up of 12-18 pairs of leaflets, medium green in color. A perennial plant, astragalus grows between 16-36 inches tall and can be propagated in temperate climates, loving full sunshine and sandy, well-drained soil. It blossoms with white and yellow, sometimes coral flowers, and the taproots are large and yellow in color when fresh.

Healing Attributes of Astragalus

Astragalus membranaceus is the only member of the Astragalus family to have medicinal value, and that healing power resides in the root of the plant, which are best harvested in their fourth year of growth. Best taken as a decoction, tincture, capsule or tablet if you’re looking for a regular supplement, candied astragalus roots are also popular in Chinese culture, and the fresh root can be added to soups and stews in thin slices as well. Astragalus has much to offer in support of immune function and maintaining a sense of well-being, which is why it is classified as a highly-desirable adaptogen! Adaptogens are a group of herbs, plants and fungi that “increase the body’s endurance and resistance to a wide array of physical, chemical, and biological stressors”, according to the definition found at Encyclopedia.com. Adaptogens such as astragalus are best taken as preventative medicine, or alongside clinical treatments for long-standing illnesses such as chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, and taken regularly for at least six weeks. The herb has been shown to counter or reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy and enhance immune function, helping to speed the body’s recovery after the treatments end. If interested in taking astragalus supplements while going through chemotherapy or a similar long-term treatment, make sure to consult your medical professional before beginning your new herbal regimen. Astragalus has also gained a reputation for helping to control sweating sometimes brought on by chronic illness. Take a look at the list below to see how you can use astragalus in your daily life!

  • Chronic infection- tincture or capsule of astragalus
  • Depleted immune system- tincture or capsule of astragalus
  • Kidney infections- decoction or tincture of astragalus
  • Chronic prostate + urinary tract problems- decoction or tincture of astragalus
  • Aging- great tonic for the elderly, as it strengthens digestion, stimulates the appetite, and helps improve mental functioning. Decoction, tincture or capsule are all viable options.

The daily dosage for astragalus is 5-15 grams, maxing out at 100 grams a week. It is suggested that if planning to use astragalus on a regular basis, you plan a three-week-on, one-week-off schedule for taking the herb, to help retain the herb’s effectiveness on your body. Another option is to alternate between astragalus and an herb like echinacea, doing three weeks of one and then three of the other. As astragalus is most often an herb to take for a long period of time rather than just for a single cold or symptom, you will have to monitor your body and gauge for yourself how effective the herb is for you individually! Astragalus is also often used with the herb schisandra (Schisandra chinesis) for increased effect.

I hope you found this article helpful, and will consider giving astragalus a chance to help you in your health routine! Please leave your ideas, experiences, and usage advice on astragalus in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Thoughts + thyme,

Katharine