Benefits of incorporating Astragalus membranaceus
Astragalus—which refers to a large genus of over 3,000 species of ancient herbs and small shrubs, belonging to the legume family Fabaceae—has been valued for its many medicinal and therapeutic applications for centuries. It’s so beneficial, in fact, that Los Angeles-based acupuncturist Jeiran Lashai, DOAM, L.Ac. calls it her “desert island Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] herb” because she so highly cherishes it in her practice, and in life.
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Want to know more about this under-the-radar yet indispensable-to-the-pros plant? Keep reading to discover the traditional and science-backed uses and benefits of astragalus, as well as two ways to incorporate it into your own wellness routine.
Astragalus benefits and uses
Herbal astragalus is made from the root of the astragalus plant, which is native to parts of Asia. In TCM, astragalus is known as Huang Qi, and Lashai says it’s used for a myriad of medicinal purposes. “It’s in a category called ‘herbs that tonify the qi’,” says Lashai. “It really helps most base layers of the body to recuperate or to have better function.” In western herbology, it is categorized as an adaptogen.
Most commonly, says Rachelle Robinett, registered herbalist, AHG & Supernatural Founder, it is utilized for its ability to provide immune system support. “Astragalus is considered an ‘immune amphoteric,’ which means that it helps normalize immune system function—neither suppressing it nor overstimulating it, but encouraging it to function optimally,” she says. “It is traditionally used for both immunosuppressive and immune excess conditions, like allergies.” According to Lashai, astragalus also increases white blood cell count (thereby bolstering immunity). “It has been shown to help the immune system with colds and influenza, and to have antibiotic effects toward certain bacterias.”
Astragalus is also hematopoietic, says Lashai, which means it can increase red blood cell count, too. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and carbon dioxide from the rest of the body to the lungs. Additionally, astragalus is antihypertensive, she says, because it’s been shown to dilate peripheral blood vessels. This means it can have a protective affect against high blood pressure.
The herb is also known to benefit the liver. “Because astragalus has hepatoprotective effects it is often used in hepatitis treatment—and in many formulas to nurse a hangover,” Lashai says. It can additionally be used for kidney support, bone health, and as an anti-inflammatory, Robinett adds.
Both herbalists note that astragalus has also been shown to help inhibit tumor growth and is often utilized in TCM as an herbal support alongside cancer treatments.
Finally, Lashai says that many TCM practitioners she knows drink it in their tea to take advantage of its traditional use for longevity—and preliminary research shows it may help lengthen your telomeres, which are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age. Lashai uses astragalus in her fertility formulas, too, and will often add it to a formula if a patient has diarrhea, fatigue, or anemia.
How to incorporate astragalus into your diet and wellness routine
As mentioned, Lashai recommends dropping a few pieces of raw astragalus right into your tea or other warm beverage just as you would with reishi or other adaptogenic herbs. “To use it daily in your tea drinking routine would be fine,” she says. “But if you are trying to take it for a medical reason, then always consult a doctor of Chinese medicine because there are different forms of it and different extracts that may be preferable for your condition. According to Robinett, you can also find astragalus as a powder, capsule, or tincture.
You can cook with astragalus, too, says Robinett. “Astragalus root can be long-simmered into tea, soups, broths and other recipes,” she says. Here are two delicious ways to try it:
1. Adaptogenic herbs + stress-busting tea
While you can simply brew astragalus into water for a tea, as recommended by Lashai, this recipe gives that basic beverage a little extra kick. In addition to astragalus, it features adaptogenic ashwagandha, reishi, cordyceps, gingseng, and licorice.
2. Vegan bone broth
While she doesn’t specifically mention astragalus in this video, Robinett says that you can easily use it as your adaptogen of choice in this nourishing vegan broth.