One thing that most medicinal plants have in common is history. They have been used for centuries by the people of the world, and the plant astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is no different. This particular plant, of the Milk Vetch family, is also known as huang qi and can be traced back to ancient China.
A Brief History of Astragalus
In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. It is seen as a powerful toner for the body’s “Chi,” or defense system. For this reason, its main purpose is said to be in toning and building the immune system and general health. The plant is often used in recipes like soup for the sick and elderly precisely because of this.
In the West, we didn’t begin using the plant as a healer until the late 1800’s, according to Mother Earth Living. It was then that Russian doctor Dr. Alexander von Bunge brought the plant to the attention of western minds. In 1911, in the Chinese Materia Medica from G.A. Stuart, Westerners heard the plant described as being “in great repute as a tonic pectoral, and diuretic medicine, the diseases for which it is prescribed, therefore, are almost numberless.”
Astragalus has antioxidant benefits—working to protect the cells of the body from damage by free radicals. It also contains polysaccharides that help to boost immune activity, reduce inflammation, and regulate blood flow.
Actual studies on the healing plant were relatively scarce until the 1970’s when researchers looked at the plant’s ability to help bolster immune function, protect the liver, and fight viruses, bacteria, and inflammation.
In one of numerous studies, Chinese researchers found astragalus to have significant benefits in the fight against cancer. Their research was based on the well-known fact that cancer treatments often weaken the immune system to the point of causing other infections—infections and illnesses that could eventually kill the cancer patient.
In their work, astragalus wasn’t only effective in restoring the immune system, it meant the difference between life and death for many individuals. Astragalus increased the survival rate of patients by stimulating increased white blood cell production in bone marrow.
Further adding to the astragalus benefits, additional information suggests astragalus may be useful in fighting heart disease, slowing the aging process, regulating diabetes and blood sugar, fighting colds and seasonal allergies, increasing energy, and balancing the adrenals.
For your herbal healing kitchen, astragalus is usually taken as a decoction – prepared in this case by adding the sliced root to a quart of water and simmering for several hours. When the water is reduced to a pint, the decoction is ready.
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