by Gianne Rayandayan, Herbalist
We are excited to dive a little deeper into one of our favorite medicinal herbs, Astragalus! We touched on this herbal ally in our blog posts on our Top Three Immune Supporting Herbs, Herbs Against Cor*navirus, and Herbs + Mushrooms for supporting respiratory health, so Astragalus is no stranger to our herbal arsenal here at Remedy.
Astragalus At a Glance
Astragalus is a medicinal root belonging to the Pea (Fabaceae) family. It is closely related to other medicinal herbs like Licorice, Alfalfa, and Red Clover. Astragalus wasn’t formally introduced into the United States until the 1920’s. However, it has played a key role in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for at least 2,000 years. (4)
The root is sweet, warming, and earthy. These tastes hint at the presence of polysaccharides which seem to be responsible for many of Astragalus’ medicinal benefits (6). Saponins and flavonoids also seem to play a role in Astragalus’ immune-supporting, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties (7).
It is worth noting that while isolating individual plant constituents (polysaccharides, flavonoids, etc) has its obvious benefits, working with the entire plant allows for more bioavailability and less side-effects. Clinical Herbalist Anne Salazar, AHG discusses the benefits of isolationism vs phytochemical synergy in her post Herbal Medicine: A Blend of Art and Science . Astragalus is a great example of both cases!
All About Astragalus
Strengthens “Protective Qi”
Astragalus acts on multiple body systems at once, providing a host of broad-spectrum benefits. In TCM, Astragalus strengthens ‘protective Qi’, a force “responsible for resisting and combating External Pernicious Influences when they invade the body ”(1). We might draw loose, simplistic parallels between the concept of ‘protective Qi’ and our immune system. Astragalus strengthens the body’s host defenses by regulating fluid metabolism, building deeper reserves of energy, and warming the skin and muscles.
Astragalus’ saponins contain antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties which have been shown to prevent sepsis in mice (8) (9). Its polysaccharides are also shown to greatly reduce flu-virus replication and boost antibody-mediated immunity. (10)
Strengthens Bone Marrow
Clinical research shows how Astragalus’ polysaccharides spurs bone marrow cell proliferation. This is significant, as bone marrow serves as manufacturing sites for white blood cells, which are important players in our body’s defenses against pathogens.(11)
Astragalus has even been shown to work synergistically with probiotics in order to boost gut-health and immunity (12). This is key, not only for the development of new prebiotics, but for assisting any well-rounded cold and flu protocol, as immunity largely begins in the gut!
Astragalus as a key ingredient in two popular immune-boosting formulas we carry at Remedy: our Virus Formula #1 tincture and our Immuno Well RX capsules. Both have shown to help folks tremendously in this COVID period-- for prevention and convalescent therapies! We also stock powdered Astragalus root on its own in capsule form. Daily Immune for Kids is a nice, gentle formula that features Astragalus, Echinacea, Calendula, Marshmallow, and Red Clover.
Adaptogens help the body resist physical, chemical, emotional, and environmental stressors. Astragalus’ fame as an adaptogen is actually a modern development-- rather than affecting stress-hormones directly, Astragalus’ ability to boost immunity, build blood, and bring energy to the muscles makes it an obvious choice to supplement any adaptogenic formula. For restoring a deeper sense of energy and endurance, we recommend trying Higher Powder, an adaptogenic herbal mushroom powder for mood-elevation and energy.
Astragalus makes a great cancer protocol adjunct because of its energizing, blood-building, and immuno-modulating properties. When dealing with chemotherapy or cancer-related issues, we recommend clients try ImmuCare by Natura. This robust formula features astragalus as a main ingredient. It fortifies the digestive, endocrine, and immune system while fortifying the blood matrix and regulating immune-modulating cells. All important things for supporting the body through chemotherapy.
In situations like these, working with one of our Clinical Herbalists is a great option, especially for those who need more oversight with their health goals.
Beneficial for Heart Disease and Diabetes
The root’s flavonoids appear to lower LDL cholesterol levels significantly while increasing HDL (16). The flavonoids are also shown to help improve plaque buildup in the arteries. This is due to the flavonoids’ antioxidant qualities (16). Astragalus is also shown to lower levels of fasting glucose and improve insulin resistance. (17)
How to take:
You can take Astragalus in almost any form, though long-simmered broths or decoctions are traditional. Try simmering a few tablespoons of Nourish’D Tea in a quart of water for 30 minutes before drinking. You can also check out this traditional Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup recipe that uses Astragalus. It is an herb that can be taken over a long period of time, from a few months to a year or more.
When not to use Astragalus:
It is not recommended to take Astragalus by itself in high doses by itself during acute illness. It is safer to take in-formula along with other antimicrobial herbs. Folks with autoimmune conditions or who are taking immunosuppressant drugs may want to consult a health care provider before working with Astragalus or any immuno-modulating herb. (14).
Astragalus is a very safe herb, which most anyone can work with. In this pandemic period, where preventative measures are absolutely necessary for staying healthy, working with herbs like Astragalus to boost immunity, vitality, and overall health is one of the many ways we can care for ourselves!
- Kaptchuk, Ted. The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. McGraw Hill, 2000.
- Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books, 1993.
- Winston, David, and Steven Maines. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2007.