Astragalus, known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as Huang Qi, was first discussed in Shen Nong’s "Materia Medica" about two thousand years ago. It was believed to stimulate immune function and have antioxidant effects, as well as to be beneficial in the treatment of viral infections and cardiovascular disease. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the root is often used in invigorating and boosting Qi. Herbalists began using astragalus in the 1800’s in various tonics and gummy sap as an emulsifier, food thickener, and anti-diarrheal agent.
Astragalus us widely used as an immunostimulant medicine to reduce the incidence of the common cold, influenza, and occasionally to improve immune response to other viral infections such as herpes type 1. It has also been used to reduce fatigue and the side effects of chemotherapy, while improving immune function.
Some evidence suggest it enhances digestion, improves heart function in viral myocarditis, lowers cholesterol and fasting blood sugar and heptoprotective activity. Astragalus injections are actually found to be protective against chronic kidney conditions such as diabetes, nephropathy, and renal hypertension. When Astragalus root is used orally, it has been shown to improve functional outcomes in stroke patients when administered within 24 hours of the stroke.
Tradtional Chinese Medicine
According to Chinese Medicine theory, Astragalus is widely used to invigorate and tonify Qi and the blood, as well as serve as an important adaptogen. Astragalus:
- Tonifies the Qi and blood - for postpartum fever due to Qi and blood deficiency. Also used in recovery stages from severe blood loss
- Tonifes the spleen and raises yang - for spleen deficiency which can be seen as lack of appetite, fatigue and diarrhea.
- Augments the practice Qi and stabilizes the exterior - for deficiency with spontaneous sweating
- Promotes urination and reduces edema
- Promotes the discharge of pus and generates flesh - for chronic ulcerations and sores due to deficiency
- Wasting and thirsting disorders (diabetes), numbness of limbs, paralysis, and painful obstruction
What will this herb do for me?
Astragalus has numerous biological effects such as digestive and immune system modulation as a hypoglycemic agent and cardiac tonic. Research suggests that it may also have a role to play in recovery from viral infection and in chronic kidney disease as as an adjunct to chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
When will it start working?
This will depend on the indication and doses; some studies have shown effects can be seen within 2 weeks.
Is it safe?
Overall this herb appears to be safe, although it as the potential to interact with some medicines. Professional supervision is advised for people receiving chemotherapy and considering using this herb.
Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and natural supplements: An evidence-based guide. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.