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Astragalus: Adaptogen with Immune-Boosting Properties

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) originates from the Chinese tradition and is one of the world's primary immune tonics.


Medicinal plant astragalus

A Bit of History


This plant is now well integrated into Western herbalism, but as you'll see in this presentation, we'll often refer to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as it has been part of their materia medica for thousands of years. Astragalus is so common there that it is listed as an official medicine in the Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China.


There are some 2,000 species of astragalus, native to China, North Korea and Mongolia, although it can be found in America, Europe and other parts of Asia. Some are toxic, but the three species used for medicinal purposes are very safe and have been in use for over 4,000 years.

 

Astragalus produces yellow flowers that grow in clusters on a hairy-stemmed raceme. Its flowers are considered papilionaceous, meaning they resemble butterflies. Its leaves are pinnate, with smaller leaflets growing in 12 to 18 pairs, like most other plants in the legume family. It can reach heights of 16 to 36 inches. Seeds germinate more easily when scarified (i.e. scraped) from their hard outer husk, then soaked overnight.


Botanical chart astragalus

Cultivation and Harvest


This herbaceous perennial can be found on mountainsides and in grassy areas with strong sun exposure. It thrives in warm to cool, dry climates with moist, well-drained soil, and can also grow in windy meadows and forest edges.


At La Fée des Bois Apothecary, 2024 finally marks the arrival of products made from astragalus! Because you see, it takes a long time for the roots to mature and be harvested for medicinal purposes.


These plants are also easily invaded by weeds, as they are rather delicate and small. We tried growing them in the early years of herbalism, but they always ended up being overrun by quackgrass, and disappeared...


But it's been back for a few years now, and the wait has been worth it, even if it's still quite fragile in our gardens! We can't wait to offer it to you in bottles!



Medicinal plant astragalus

Properties


It's THE plant for people with infections, colds, flu, sinusitis, allergies, chronic fatigue and other ailments that just won't let up all year round! When you feel your immune system is down, completely down!


Astragalus is a profound immune tonic, a so-called adaptogenic plant, which can strengthen the body, improve physical resistance and support the immune system. It's definitely a "field" plant for immunity and overall health. It increases resistance to viral infections and helps prevent respiratory tract infections.


It is a remarkable plant for boosting an "exhausted" immune system. It acts particularly on bone marrow, stimulating white blood cell production. Studies have shown that astragalus also stimulates the production of interferon and macrophages, lymphocytes and even red blood cells. It also increases phagocytosis and IgM, and enhances macrophage cytotoxic activity and antibody response.


Thanks to its adaptogenic activity, astragalus regulates hyper-reactive immunity, a very fine plant to use for allergies, along with nettle and other anti-histaminic plants.

 

It's a cardiotonic plant, rich in antioxidants (flavonoids with antioxidant properties and immunostimulant polysaccharides), diuretic and hypotensive.


Astragalus protects the liver, or, if you prefer, is a hepatoprotector. Its root contains flavonoids and amino acids that make it a fairly effective liver repairer and liver protector; they specifically improve hepatic assimilation, storage and detoxification, and increase liver protein synthesis.


Given its significant role in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus :

  • Is used to strengthen the immune system and prevent respiratory ailments. However, it's important to note that astragalus should not be taken when experiencing fever and/or actively combating a virus; it's a preventive plant. Therefore, it's recommended for individuals who are weakened, suffering from chronic illnesses, or experiencing frequent colds and infections.

  • Tonifies the Wei Chi, which is our protective barrier against external pathogens. In fact, it supports the body in its search for balance or homeostasis. Additionally, it protects both the adrenal cortex and the lungs as well as the liver. Astragalus is considered, for young adults, as a tonic superior to ginseng. Wei Chi is the protective energy of the body located superficially around the skin. This is also why (in Chinese language), it's not advisable to take it during an infection: first, we want the infection or pathogen to leave our body, and then, we "seal our protective barrier," with astragalus, for example. An interesting point regarding the Wei Chi: it's often associated with perspiration. However, in the case of astragalus, it's more of an "anti-diaphoretic" plant, meaning it's specifically used to reduce excessive sweating.

  • Tonifies the Qi and the Blood (the term "adaptogen" fits very well here!). By tonifying the blood, it improves its composition both in terms of red blood cells and white blood cells, while also favorably altering its viscosity. In China, astragalus is renowned for its ability to restore strength to the musculature. It is said to tonify the vertical Qi, the energy that helps us stand upright and keeps the organs in place. Astragalus is reputed for strengthening the Spleen meridian, which is linked to an individual's overall digestive capacity. It is also used for deficiencies in Qi and Blood, meaning a lack of vital energy (Qi) and weakness in the physical transport mechanism (Blood). Associated symptoms may include general weakness, paleness, dizziness, low energy/fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, as well as poor wound healing.




Astragalus In the Kitchen


Astragalus root works very well in broths. Its rather mild flavor and slight sweet taste blend nicely in bone broth, vegetable broth, or chicken broth. In short, if you have fresh or dried roots available, don't hesitate to give it a try... the whole family will benefit! The powdered root can also be used.



Contraindications/Precautions/Interactions


  • Astragalus should not be used during the last trimester of pregnancy.

  • Chinese medicine advises against its use (although it can still be used) in conditions of heat: fever, infections, hot flashes, inflammations.

  • Astragalus can interact with medications that suppress the immune system, such as those taken by organ transplant recipients and some cancer patients. Some of these medications include cyclosporine, azathioprine, and methotrexate. It may synergistically increase the effects of recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2), although this has not been clinically established, and includes medications such as aldesleukin.



Uses and Dosage 


It's a plant that should be used in the medium and long term to have a significant effect. By that, we mean several months of daily use.


  • Decoction : about 20 grams of dried roots per liter of water, simmered for 45 minutes. Decoction would be the most interesting form to extract all the properties of the root.

  • Tincture : 2 to 6 ml per day.

  • Powder : 5 to 15 grams per day, in food or drink.


 

Root of the medicinal plant astragalus

Our Herbal Products Using Astragale


Stay tuned, we'll soon have astragalus products for you: the Mother tincture and a formulation for the respiratory system, based on this root.


We'll be selling astragalus plants at our plant sale in May! https://www.herboristerielafeedesbois.com/en/ventes-de-plantes

Mariane's advice

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