5 Reasons Astragalus is Such a Cocktail of Goodness
Ever heard of Mongolian milkvetch, or huang qi? Or perhaps its astragalus you've heard of?
Whatever you choose to call it, Astragalus membranaceus is a powerful immune-balancing plant that has been used for hundreds of years, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
It may be part the legume family, but this revered herb is nothing like our innocuous peas and beans. In fact, out of over 3,000 species of astragalus, only two are used medicinally. Its large, tap roots are bright yellow, explaining its Chinese name, huang qi, which translates to "yellow leader", indicative of its importance in TCM.
However, although Astragalus membranaceus have massive benefits for our health, other species of astragalus have proven not to be as kind. Locoweed, for example, which grows naturally in North America, contain phytotoxins which are harmful to livestock, and many other types of astragalus contain toxic levels of selenium.
Which part of the Astragalus membrananeus plant do we use?
It is the root of the astragalus plant that contains all the good stuff. It harbours everything from trace minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids to saponins, polysaccarides, flavonoids, and antioxidants. It even has its own specially named astragalosides that may support longevity.
Once the root is properly dried, healers traditionally used it to make teas, soups, powders, capsules, extracts and even tinctures for wound healing. A fair bit of research these days has shown positive outcomes on immunity and kidney health, as well as promising results around diuresis and recovery from strokes. Its powerful adaptogenic effects have also been documented - and for those of us enduring prolonged or severe stress, adaptogens can be particularly helpful.
Let's dive a little deeper, shall we?
Thought to boost the immune system by increasing the body’s white cells to fight infection, astragalus has long been used by TCM practitioners in their remedies to boost the body’s defences. Research also shows that astragalus contains flavonoids, antioxidants and polysaccharides, all of which are well known for their immune-boosting benefits. Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and possibly antiviral as well, astragalus virtually ticks all the immunity boxes!
Additionally, if you are prone to sneezing or itching your way through pollen season with the dreaded hay fever, why not give astragalus a shot?
We all know threats to our health and wellness don’t just come in the form of sickness and disease. Our bodies are constantly subject to a myriad of stressors - intense work pressures, lack of sleep, overstimulation... you name it.
As a powerful adaptogen, and in ways we haven’t fully fathomed yet, Astragalus is one of the formidable herbs that can help our bodies withstand the stressors placed on us.
Astragalus is packed with antioxidants thought to counteract free radicals. These may sound like guerrilla fighters, but in our bodies, free radicals can cause damage damage to parts of cells by stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation. When this happens, the cells lose their ability to function normally, eventually leading to its death. But with the presence of antioxidants, the free radicals are "neutralised" by the donation of electrons by these antioxidants, reducing their reactivity.
The herb’s root contains saponins too - yes, a type of surfactant similar to soap! These may contribute to astragalus’ cardiovascular support by lowering blood lipids levels and reducing the formation of blood clots.
Astragalus has a diuretic effect that helps lower blood pressure, and may also help wash fluids through the kidneys, restoring them and easing congestion and infection. Again, its antioxidant superpowers are what contribute to protection of the renal system.
How do I take astragalus?
Astragalus treatments come in many forms. TCM practitioners normally brew the dried root in teas and soups, but you can also get it in the form of capsules like our Immune Tonic+, which strongly features astragalus alongside other powerful tonic herbs like Siberian ginseng, Schisandra and reishi mushroom.
Some practitioners recommend taking astragalus for at least six weeks to get the full benefits of the herb while others recommend rotating the use of adaptogens every few months. Our view? Listen to your body. Everyone is different and every body will react differently to the same herb.
However, since astragalus is known to interact with some drugs, we recommend staying away from astragalus if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, immunocompromised, have an autoimmune disease or other serious health conditions or are taking prescribed medicines - or at least have a chat with your healthcare practitioner first.
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References available on request.