inner life




Astragalus Astragalus: Immune Root

Astragalus membranaceus

English:  milk-vetch root

by Katrina Thompson, guest contributor

Huang Qi:

huang qiAstragalus is the common English name for huang-qi, a beautiful, herbaceous, perennial herb. Two characters make up the written Chinese word for astragalus. The first character, "huang," means yellow; the second, "qi," means venerable, referring to this herb's place as a superior tonic in Chinese medicine.

Kai-Ho Mah
Calligrapher and professor of foreign languages and Asian Studies
Colorado State University

A. membranaceus grows in China from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, south to the Shandong peninsula, west to the mountains of Sichuan, and north to the westernmost province of Xinjiang. It is found along forest margins, in shrub thickets, thin open woods, and grasslands near the edge of forests. The Chinese harvest its roots when plants are four to five years old. Before completely dry, the roots are sliced into thin diagonals or sliced lengthwise, producing a dried product that looks like a tongue depressor.

The astragalus genus is one of the largest groups of flowering plants in the pea family (leguminosae of Fabaceae), with more than 1,750 documented species and members. Some are merely ornamental; some are medicinal; some are poisonous; and some are considered safe and used in foods, cosmetics, and coffee or tea substitutes. Gum tragacanth, a common colloidal ingredient in lotions, pharmaceutical suspensions, resinous tinctures, creams, jellies, and ice cream, is derived from several astragalus species.

Around 5000 years ago, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung reported on his proving of astragalus. The emperor was said to have eaten 365 medicinal plants over the course of his lifetime, until he turned green and died from toxic overdose. Emperor Shen Nung is remembered today as having a green complexion, long hair, long beard and a rather strong face with large eyes and hairy eyebrows. He is dressed completely in leaves and vines although he sits on the majestic throne of China. His court preserved his knowledge and findings, enabling hundreds of generations of Chinese doctors to learn and expand upon investigations. This is one of the reasons medicinal knowledge and powers are so advanced in China.









Westerners began to realize the medicinal importance of A. membranaceus during the 1800s. Dr. Alexander van Bunge, a Russian physician who studied East Asian plants, first described the species for the West in 1868. Astragalus is slowly becoming one of the better-known Chinese herbs. Some of its popularity may be attributed to extensive scientific study that began in the 1970s confirming the herb's ability to stimulate the immune system, fight bacteria, viruses, and inflammation, protect the liver, and act as a diuretic and adaptogen.

Adaptogens are substances that have nonspecific actions and cause minimal disruption to the body while normalizing body functions, no matter the condition or disease.

Health practitioners have prescribed astragalus for treat shortness of breath, general weakness, and lack of appetite.  It is a diuretic and can also be used to treat colds, flu, stomach ulcers, and diabetes. Astragalus strengthens the body's resistance and invigorates and promotes tissue regeneration via phytochemicals in the plant such as polysaccharides, especially astragalan I, II, and III, and saponins and triterpenes. In studies performed at the National Cancer Institute and other leading American Cancer Institutes over recent years, it has been positively shown that while astragalus does not directly attack cancers, it does strengthen a cancer patient's immune system, allowing them to recover significantly faster and live longer. Researchers believe on the basis of cell studies that astragalus augments those white blood cells that fight disease and removes some of those that make the body more vulnerable to disease. In these same studies, both in the laboratory and with 572 patients, it also has been found that astragalus promotes adrenal cortical function, which is usually critically diminished in cancer patients. Astragalus also ameliorates bone marrow pression and gastointestinal toxicity caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Astragalus is presently being looked upon as a possible treatment for people living with AIDS and other viral conditions as it also increases interferon production and enhances NK and T-cell function. Astragalus shows support for peripheral vascular diseases and peripheral circulation.

It's astonishing that we are only now documenting something that the Chinese have known for centuries - that astragalus is a superior class of herb; but we are just beginning to understand how it works, and its acceptance by practitioners of allopathic medicine will likely depend on the outcome of additional well-designed, controlled clinical trials. Westerner scientists are learning that the lessons of ancient cultures are not to be dismissed.


Astragalus membranaceus

Actions: Stimulates the immune system. Used for common colds and sore throats, to raise immune function, for infections, in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, and as an adjunctive support for persons undergoing chemotherapy.

How: Astragalus contains numerous components, including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides (e.g. astragalosides I­VII), amino acids, and trace minerals. Research conducted by the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, confirms this herb's immune-potentiating actions. Astragalus appears to restore T-cell (a specific type of white blood cell that is part of the lymphocyte family) counts to relatively normal ranges in some cancer patients.
Dosage: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus is often used in daily doses of 9 g to 15 g of the dried sliced root, simmered for several hours in a quart of water (the decoction is ready when the water is reduced down to a pint).
Tablets & Capsules: Typically combined with ginseng in doses of up to 500mg taken 3 times a day.

astragalus has no known side effects
when used as recommended





Comments by Ingrid Naiman:

Astragalus is usually considered to be an immune enhancing herb because of its stimulation of phagocytosis, especially of the reticuloendothelial system.  It is one of the herbs that has been shown to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.  It is renal and hepato-protective and aids the bone marrow in building new red blood cells.  It is also considered to be anti-viral.


Astragalus Extract, 2 oz. (60 ml.)

Contents: Astragalus membranaceus in distilled water and organic grain alcohol.  Approximately 25% alcohol.

Dosage:  3-5 ml. per day


Goji Berry Tonic, 4 oz. liquid tonic


Mongolian goji berries, hawthorn berries, milk thistle seeds, astragalus root, galangal root, cinnamon bark in alcohol extract with glycerite.

Download PDF file on the Tonic

alcohol, $

glycerite, $


Ingrid Naiman
10 April 2006


More information :

MD Anderson
Memorial Sloan Kettering
University of Maryland Medical Center

Astragalus species:




left up right




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