Astragalus Membranaceus, (Huang Qi, Huang Ch’i)

In Oriental medicine, legendary tonic of protective energy or Wei Ch’i. Foundational to many Chinese herbal formulas. Overall health tonic, increased resistance to disease and infections through enhanced activity of NK and T cell function, plus increased interferon production. Helps restore peripheral circulation. Assists digestion. Numerous high molecular weight polysaccharides, the isoflavone 4’hydrody-3′-methoxyisoflavone 7 sug, the Terpinoid Saponins Astragalosides Astrameem-brannins. An herb native to China, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) has been used for more than 2,000 years to balance the vital energy – or qi -which is thought to flow through all beings. A relative of licorice and the pea plant, astragalus appears to give the immune system a powerful boost. Teas, tablets, and other healing formulations are made from the plant’s flat, yellowish root.

Taken as a tonic, astragalus is believed to build stamina and vitality. It has a reputation for improving overall health by helping the body to fight off viral and bacterial infections responsible for causing colds, the flu, bronchitis, and sinus infections. As an antioxidant, it helps to counteract cell damage caused by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. Many people undergoing cancer chemotherapy or radiation take astragalus to fortify their battered immune systems. Indeed, one of the great appeals of astragalus is its versatility: It can be safely combined with many conventional medical treatments. The body can develop a tolerance to an immune-stimulating herb such as astragalus if it is taken over long stretches of time. So, for maximum effect, alternate the use of astragalus with other immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea, cat’s claw, and pau d’arco. An organ toning and balancing herb, particularly stimulating to the immune system.

Primary Uses: as a specific in immune/resistance building formulas.
Secondary Uses: as a toning diuretic herb in kidney inflammation formulas.
(Source: “How To Be Your Own Herbal Pharmacist” by Linda Rector-Page N.D., Ph.D.)

Tones the spleen and is useful in spleen deficiency problems such as poor appetite, fatigue and diarrhea. Also useful for prolapse syndromes such as prolapsed uterus, stomach, or anus, and also for uterine bleeding. Is an effective diuretic and promotes the discharge of pus. (Source: “Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas” by Herbal Research Publications Inc.) Astragalus is derived from the root of a plant (Astragalus Membranaceus) in the pea family. It is also known as milk vetch root (referring to astragalus species that grow in the United States) and huang-qi. It is an adaptogen, that is, it has a balancing effect on bodily functions. Astragalus is used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine to strengthen or tone the body’s overall vitality, improve digestion, and support the spleen.

Studies confirm it contains medicinally active compounds, including a polysaccharide that stimulates the immune system. Research has also shown that subjects with advanced cancer showed a two to three fold increase in the strength of their immune response after being given astragalus. A second study showed that astragalus boosted immune response, even in animals that were treated with an immunosuppressive drug, cyclophosphamide. Astragalus is taken in China by cancer patients to boost immunity after drug or radiation treatment. It may protect body cells against heavy metals and chemical toxins. Astragalus is a good source of the essential trace mineral selenium. It is often combined in formulas with ginseng and other Chinese herbs. Herbal companies offer it fresh or dried and in capsules, concentrated drops, tinctures, and extracts. (Source: 1996 Natural Health Handbook from the editors of “Natural Health”)

Astragalus: An Unique Herb

Astragalus has been used as an immunity booster in China for nearly 4,000 years, according to Rob McCaleb, founder of the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado. Belonging to the Leguminosae family, Astragalus membranaceus is one of the most frequently used food supplements and remedies in China. Herb specialists call it an adaptogen, a type of nontoxic natural substance that helps the body maintain its normal balance of health and wholeness as defined by Dr. I. I. Brekman of the Institute of Biologically Active Substances, Academy of Vladivostok, Russia. “Make up energy and redress balance” is the most central quality of Astragalus. Chinese often keep it in their water container to get the tonic effect constantly. Analysis shows that Astragalus contains polysaccharides, monosaccharides, flavonoid, alkaloid, including choline and betaine, folic acid, various amino acids, mucoitin, gum, cellulose, picrorhiza, and fourteen mineral trace elements, including selenium, zinc, iron, etc, which are inperative for man and animals.

It is believed and used in Chinese traditional medicine for its following pharmacological functions:

  1. It strengthens immunity to disease. It has certain inhibiting effects on molecular pathological changes caused by viruses, increases growth of plasma cells, stimulates synthesis of antibodies, and builds up body defense.
  2. It deters aging process and facilitates longevity. It delays the natural aging process of diploid blastocyte, prolonging by one third the life span of the cells.
  3. It enhances body energy. It promotes metabolism of serum and liver proteins, stimulates growth of antibodies, increases white blood cells, and thus increases resistance to viruses. It also induces production of interferon.
  4. It is diuretic, detoxicating and reduces proteinuria and cures kidney disease.
  5. It inhibits gastric secretions, reduces gastric acid, and thus helps cure stomach ulcers.
  6. It is cardiotonic. It has even more remarkable effects on heart failure due to poisoning or exhaustion.
  7. It protects the liver and alleviates liver injury caused by stilbenemidine.
  8. It relieves impotence and frigidity.

Numerous scientific studies have confirmed the medicinal value of astragalus. Immunopharmacology (1990;20) and Mutation Research (1992) found enhancement response by Astragalus extract, Journal of Ethnopharmacology (1990) reported a hepatoprotective effect and indicated that ethanol extract of Astragalus alleviates liver injury, Archivos del Instituto de Cardiologia de Mexico (1993) announced the vasodilator and antihypertensive properties of Astragalus extract. Since the 1950s, scientists have discovered the potential use of Astragalus for treatment of cancer (The Journal of Urology 1991;146:486-490).

Investigations conducted by institutions for cancer research indicated that in areas where selenium content in foods is high, rate of stomach cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, colon cancer, etc, is low. Selenium content prevents cell damage caused by hydrogen peroxide and oxidative lipids. Antioxidation effect of selenium is 500 times that of vitamin E. Recently the immunity enhancing properties of Astragalus have led medical scientists to use it in experiments of AIDS treatment (Virology, March 1992). It is considered one of the most promising herbs. Astragalus is available in many forms. Chinese drug store sell dry roots, some stores sell powder of the roots, some market the extract, while others make it the central ingredient of herbal teas. While some use only the root, others also use the leaves and flowers.

Astragalus membranaceus, Leguminosae

Names: Milk-vetch root, huang qi
Part Used: Root
Constituents: Glycosides, Polysaccharides, choline, betaine, rumatakenin, b-sitosterol
Actions: Immunomodulator

Indications: Used since ancient times in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has become an important remedy in the west since its effects upon the immune system came to light. As the power of immunological research is focused on medicinal herbs a whole new array of effects are being discovered.

The polysaccharides in Astragalus have been shown to intensify phagocytosis of reticulo-endothelial systems, stimulate pituitary-adrenal cortical activity and restore depleted red blood cell formation in bone marrow. Astragalus is also one of the herbs known to stimulate the bodies natural production of interferon.

The therapeutic potential offered is very exciting. The conclusion being drawn by most western herbalists is that Astragalus is an ideal remedy for any one who might be immuno-compromized in any way. This can range from someone who easily catches colds to someone with cancer.

Preparations & Dosage: Decoction: put 1 teaspoonful of the root into a cup of water, bring to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Author: Life Enthusiast Staff