Astragalus root, also called Huang Qi (literally yellow senior) in Chinese name, is a common herb that is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition to its extensive medicinal uses, this herb is also one important ingredient in many popular Cantonese soup recipes for the purpose of tonifying. As one of the 50 fundamental Chinese herbs that are frequently used in TCM, astragalus actually has been used as an essential tonic for more than 2,000 years. And it is also widely accepted by the westerners as a common supplement because it can help sleep and enhance energy and libido. It was first indexed in the oldest surviving Chinese pharmacopoeia – Shen-nung Pen-tsao Ching (Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica). More importantly, there it was rated as the Class 1 herbs, which means it is edible and with less or no harm at all to human body. In terms of why it is named so, Li Shizhen put it this way, “The reason for the name of Huang Qi is twofold: it is yellow, plus Qi means chief or head, namely the leader of all tonics.” So, what is astragalus root good for and how to make tea with it? Here are the details!
What is astragalus root?
This herb refers to the dried roots of Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. Var. Mongholicus (Bge.) Hsiao or Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge., which are the plants of the family Fabaceae. In addition, some other relative plants in the same genus have been used as astragalus too in different regions. They are Astragalus tongolensis Ulbr., Astragalus chrysopterus Bunge, Astragalus floridus Benth, Astragalus maowenensis Hsiao, mss., Astragalus yunnanensis Franch., Astragalus ernestii Comb., various plants in the genus of Hedysarum, and so on. And its other names include Huang Hua Huang Qi, milkvetch root, radix astragali, astragalus membranaceus root, root of astragalus membranaceus, Astragalus propinquus, Bei Qi, etc. In China, it is mainly produced in Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Heilongjiang and other places. Usually medicinally it is harvested during spring and autumn. Next, remove its fibrous roots and head, dry in the sun, slice, and it raw or stir fried with honey.
Astragalus membranaceus is a flowering perennial herb. Stem is erect and with branches in the upper part. Odd pinnately compound leaves are alternate, and with 12 to 18 pairs of leaflets. Leaflet blade is wide oval or elliptical, and pubescent below. Stipules are lanceolate. Racemes are axillary. Bell-shaped calyx is densely pubescent and with 5 teeth. Yellow corolla comes with oblong-obovate vexil and long-claw ala and carina. Stamens are 10 and diadelphous. Ovary has long handle. Membranous pods are semi-ovoid and glabrous. The flower period is from June to July and fruiting period is from July to September. Habitats include sunny grass and hillsides. Now it is widely cultivated for medicinal uses.
As for chemical constituents, roots of Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. Var. Mongholicus (Bge.) Hsiao contain 2′,4′-dihydroxy-5,6-dimethoxyisoflavone, choline, betaine, amino acids, sucrose, glucuronic acid, and trace amounts of folic acid. And roots of Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. contains β-sitosterol, linoleic acid and linolenic acid.
Astragalus root benefits
From more than 2,000 years of history and application, Chinese pharmacists continue to learn, to study and further the understanding about this herb. Now astragalus is widely believed to be a good medicine that can provide a great many health benefits, especially for healing and for diabetes. As a matter of fact, pharmacists from the west world also begin to focus on and research how to use it to reduce the chemotherapy side effects. As what mentioned before, this is a natural herb that is often cooked or used by many people in the forms like astragalus root supplement, capsules, tea, liquid extract, powder, pills, tincture, etc. Diseases covers lupus, HPV, genital herpes, breast cancer, weight loss, skin problems, diabetes, allergies, eczema, acne, male fertility, hair loss, anxiety, insomnia, lyme disease, leukemia, and more.
Ginseng and astragalus are two famous qi tonics but they are different from the point of view of medicinal properties. The former is good at nourishing vitality and rescuing from collapse by restoring yang. Therefore, it is commonly used in prostration, shock and other emergencies. The latter is specialized in reinforcing deficiency and often used in poor physical condition, low faint voice, and thin and weak pulse. For example, if one person catches cold frequently especially when the temperature changes, he is very likely suffering from a pattern called “Insecurity of the Exterior” in TCM, which can be cured by astragalus to secure the exterior. And its pharmacology can give a conclusive or satisfactory response.
Modern pharmacological actions of radix astragali
1. It can promote metabolism, fight fatigue, and facilitate the renewal of serum and liver proteins;
2. It has significant diuretic effect, which can eliminate the urine protein in experimental nephritis;
3. It improves anemia in animals;
4. It increases low blood sugar and reduces high blood sugar;
5. It excites breathing;
6. It enhances and regulates immune system, promotes the interferon system, and improves the body’s resistance to disease;
7. It has low-grade inhibitory effects on the cell pathological change caused by influenza virus and other viruses. At the same time it has a protective effect on influenza virus infected mice;
8. It has a broader antibacterial effect;
9. It can significantly increase the number, growth and longevity of the cultured cells;
10. It can enhance myocardial contractility, protect the cardiovascular system, fight arrhythmia, dilate coronary artery and peripheral vessels, lower blood pressure, reduce platelet adhesion, and reduce thrombosis;
11. It also has anti-hyperlipidemia, anti-aging, anti-hypoxia, anti-radiation, and lipotropic effects.
Common astragalus root recipes and herbal remedies
In accordance with Chinese Pharmacopoeia, this herb is sweet in flavor and warm in medicinal properties and goes to two meridians of lung and spleen. Prime functions have invigorating qi for strengthening superficies, promoting diuresis to push toxic, draining pus, and healing boils to promote tissue regeneration. Main astragalus root uses and indications are deficiency of vital energy and lacking in strength, reduced appetite and loose stool, sinking of qi of middle-jiao, prolapse due to chronic diarrhea, hemafecia and uterine bleeding, spontaneous perspiration caused by exterior deficiency, qi deficiency induced edema, non-healing of boils, carbuncle-abscess that refuse to burst, sallow yellow facial complexion caused by blood deficiency, consumptive thirst caused by internal heat, chronic nephritis proteinuria, and diabetes. Recommended astragalus root dosage is from 9 to 30 grams in decoction.
1. Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. From Pi Wei Lun (Treatise on the Spleen and Stomach), this formula is adept at treating prolapse of anus and visceroptosis due to spleen deficiency and qi failing to lift. Other major herbal ingredients include Ren Shen (ginseng), Sheng Ma (Black Cohosh Rhizome), Chai Hu (Bupleurum), etc.
2. Yu Ping Feng San. From Dan Xi Xin Fa (Dan Xi’s Experiential Methods), this prescription is basically formulated for defensive Qi instability, spontaneous sweating caused by exterior deficiency, and susceptible to the attack of wind pathogen. Other main herbs are Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), Fang Feng (Ledebouriella Root), and so on.
3. Shi Quan Da Bu Tang. From Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary), this recipe is mainly designed for ulcer in advanced stage that is hard to heal because of deficiency of both blood and qi. The rest essential herbs are ginseng, Dang Gui (dong Quai), Rou Gui (Cinnamon Bark), and more.
4. Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang. From Yi Lin Gai Cuo (Correcting the Errors in the Forest of Medicine), it is usually used for sequela of apoplexy by combining this herb with dong quai, Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Root), Di Long (Earthworm), etc.
5. Gui Pi Tang. From Ji sheng fang (Formulas to Aid the Living), it includes it along with ginseng, White Atractylodes, etc. to cure hemorrhage due to spleen deficiency.
Astragalus root side effects and drug interactions
Use astragalus root with care in some certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, etc. And it shouldn’t be used in those who have had transplant surgery. In terms of drug interactions, it should avoid Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar), Lithium, and immunosuppressants. Besides, as of the writing of this article there are no known side effects for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, consulting a licensed TCM doctor is highly recommended before taking it.