Cold and flu season are coming, so this seems like a good time of
year to talk about the herb Astragalus.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), known as Huang qi in Chinese
medicine, is famous as a tonic to the immune system. The Chinese
describe it as a tonic to the "wei qi", which is a protective energy
that circulates under the skin, and is the body's first line of
defense against external pathogenic invasion. (That's a fancy way of
saying it helps keep you from "catching" whatever may be going
Astragalus is traditionally used with people who catch colds
frequently, because it both strengthens and stabilizes the protective
energy mentioned earlier. This protective energy also regulates
sweating, so astragalus is used to regulate sweating. (If there is
excessive sweating, astragalus will decrease it; if there is too
little sweating, astragalus will increase it.)
Astragalus is also a diuretic, and may be helpful in cases with edema
or water retention.
Astragalus is also an herbal tonic for the lungs, and may help where
there is shortness of breath.
Astragalus also benefits sugar metabolizing functions; it was
traditionally used for "wasting and thirsting" illnesses, which was a
description used for diabetes in early Chinese medical texts.
Astragalus is a qi tonic, like ginseng (see a discussion about ginseng here);
but astragalus is more activating than ginseng. Ginseng is said to benefit the
spiritual energies, while astragalus works more on the physical.
Astragalus is a good herbal remedy to use as a tonic periodically, it
benefits the energy, tonifies the immune system, and also helps
tonify the blood. It is a safe remedy, and available as a raw herb,in
tinctures, and teas, also in capsules and freeze dried extracts.
The raw herb is usually found as thin slices, which resemble
popsickle sticks. One traditional way to use astragalus was to add a
few sticks to soups, and allow it to simmer with the rest of the
ingredients. Used this way, or cooked alone into a "tea" (astragalus
has a mild sweet flavor), astragalus is a good way to give your
immune system a boost.
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