Astragalus root is a powerful medicinal herb that comes to us from traditional Chinese medicine. Western herbalists have emphatically embraced this herb, one of the best for strengthening immune health, and the benefits of astragalus are attracting more and more attention.
Although there are over 2000 species of astragalus, only a few have medicinal properties. Here are the most important health benefits of astragalus you should know about it, how to use it, and any side effects to be aware of.
What Is Astragalus?
Astragalus (also known as Huang Qi and milk vetch) is a perennial flowering plant native to China. It can grow up to three feet tall and belongs to the same plant family as peas, beans, and other legumes.
Two species of astragalus are used medicinally: Astragalus membranaceus and A. mongholicus.
Used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), astragalus roots are typically harvested when the plant is 4 or 5 years old. The roots are then dried and sliced or cooked in with food for health benefits.
Astragalus root contains several important plant compounds that give it medicinal benefits. The main ones are saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, which have properties ranging from anti-inflammatory to immune-boosting. (1)
Despite being used for everything from colds to shortness of breath to diabetes in TCM, it took until about the 1800s for astragalus to make its way into western herbalism. Now, it's a very popular herb that has been the subject of many studies.
Top Benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus root has been studied the most because of its long history of use as an immune booster.
It works by stimulating the immune system and increasing the production of white blood cells. White blood cells are a vital part of your body developing resistance to bacteria and viruses and fighting off illness. (1)(2)
Astragalus has also shown an ability to stimulate the production of antibodies and other important immune responses like T-cells and natural killer cells. It has demonstrated antiviral activity as well, which confirms its use to combat colds and the flu in TCM. (3)
Despite its potent effects on the immune system, astragalus needs time to build up in your system to do its work. You should take it daily in something like this Immuni-Tea to get the full effects for boosting your immune health.
Helps Chronic and Adrenal Fatigue
Astragalus is an adaptogenic herb, which means that it has a normalizing effect on the body and can help with recovery from stress and fatigue.
In Chinese medicine, astragalus root is frequently used in soups to help those who are in convalescence recover. It's also often used to help with symptoms of chronic and adrenal fatigue because it helps body and mind to build back up.
Astragalus can be even more effective for fatigue and stress when combined with other adaptogens like ashwagandha. One study found that an herbal formula with astragalus as a main ingredient was successful at reducing tiredness in participants with chronic fatigue syndrome. (4)
May Protect Heart Health
Research is showing that astragalus may have important benefits for protecting heart health and improving heart function.
The flavonoids found in astragalus root are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Lowering inflammation can improve both heart and overall health. (5)
Interestingly, supplementing with astragalus appears to have a positive effect on heart function in those with heart failure.
One Chinese study found that using astragalus along with conventional treatment improved heart function more in patients with heart failure than just the treatment alone. Another study found that an IV injection of astragalus helped patients with viral myocarditis (an inflammatory heart condition). (6)(7)
Although more research is needed, astragalus root definitely exhibits a heart-protective effect.
May Help with Diabetes
Astragalus is a traditional herb used in Chinese medicine to help treat diabetes.
Along with an anti-inflammatory effect, astragalus can reduce blood sugar levels and may improve insulin resistance. (8) One study found that an astragalus extract improved blood sugar levels both after fasting and after meals in those with type 2 diabetes. (9)
Other Benefits of Astragalus
In Chinese medicine, astragalus is valued as an herb for longevity, which is a benefit that can be difficult to translate into western terms.
TCM practitioners believe that astragalus root strengthens the body and invigorates qi (which can be translated as our vital energy). The herb is used to protect against disease that often comes with age and renew energy.
From a western perspective, astragalus has potent antioxidant properties that contribute to what we would call an anti-aging effect. In particular, this anti-aging potential is thought to come from polysaccharides found in astragalus that fight damage from free radicals. (10)
Astragalus also has benefits for treating wounds and can be used externally as a poultice to speed healing. It helps to protect against infection and may prevent scarring. (11)
Other potential benefits of astragalus include alleviating symptoms of chemotherapy, protecting respiratory health, and supporting kidney function.
How to Use Astragalus
If you want to try astragalus, it's important to know a few things.
First, although there are many ways to use this herb, it's most often used alongside other herbs, especially other adaptogens. In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are rarely used on their own. Instead, they are formulated with other herbs for greater effect.
Also, astragalus is a food-grade herb and can be taken in large quantities. It's difficult to take too much of it, and it's most effective when used for a long period of time.
You'll find astragalus available in many forms: dried root slices, cut and sifted root, powdered root, tincture, extract, and capsules.
You can also cook the root in with foods like soups, but you need to remove the root before eating your meal because it's too tough and fibrous to chew.
An easy way to take astragalus at home is as a decoction, which means you would simmer the dried root in water for 20-30 minutes. You can also take in as part of an herbal immune-boosting tea with other herbs that work synergistically with astragalus.
There are very few precautions for astragalus root. It generally has no side effects and is safe to take in large amounts.
If you have an autoimmune disease, you may wish to avoid astragalus since it can stimulate your immune system. It may also interfere with certain medications, so speak with your doctor before using if you are taking any prescriptions, especially immunosuppressive drugs.
Discover the Benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus is a very safe and powerful herb that has thankfully made its way around the world. Whether you want to use it for immune boosting or to build yourself back up after a period of stress, astragalus has many health benefits for a wide range of people.
Find out why this Chinese herb is valued by herbalists everywhere by trying it out for yourself!