Astragalus root - The herb that fuses Eastern & Western medicine
What is Astragalus?
Astragalus is a herb that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for at least 2000 years. It’s also known as Huang Qi, Radix Astragali milk vetch, membranous milk vetch, Mongolian milk vetch or yellow vetch.
However, it’s the root of the species called Astragalus membranaceus (and sometimes A. mongholicus) that’s predominantly used in TCM, and that we’ll refer to as ‘astragalus’ in this article.
This species of astragalus grows in grasslands in dry areas of northern China and Mongolia.
Beneath the soil, the astragalus plant is characterised by a fibrous tap root. A high quality astragalus root is one that’s long and thick, with few branches emerging from it. Under its thin bark, the astragalus root should have yellowish-white flesh, a yellow centre and a sweetish taste.
What is Eastern & Western medicine?
Eastern medicine encompasses traditional Chinese medicine and refers to a range of medical practices that originated throughout Asia. And although these practices have evolved over thousands of years, they still retain many of their original approaches to healing today. The philosophy which underpins most eastern medicine is the practice of treating the whole person, and not just the symptoms.
Western medicine, more commonly known as ‘conventional’ medicine, which forms the basis of many of the world’s modern health systems, can be traced back to ancient times. While health and ill health was initially thought to be dictated by the Gods, the ancient Greeks were the first to look at the body through the lens of human biology.
Now... how does this apply to astragalus root?
Chinese medicine, traditionally used astragalus to improve immune defences. Whereas astragalus has been used in Western herbal medicine to stimulate the body’s immune system responses, while also supporting the immune system to fight illness.
East = Defends and West = Stimulates / Fights
Understanding astragalus from a TCM perspective
Astragalus root’s prized benefits for promoting immunity are mainly an extension of its actions as a Qi tonic – so to truly understand how valuable it is, you need to understand Qi too! There’s no direct translation for the Chinese word Qi in English. It’s pronounced ‘chee’ (as in ‘cheese’), and is the word used to describe the life force energy that powers all aspects of life – including our physical, mental and emotional functioning.
One specific form of Qi is called defensive Qi, protective Qi or Wei Qi.
In TCM defensive Qi is traditionally understood to circulate just beneath the exterior surface of the body, where it acts as a kind of shield that reduces the likelihood that factors like cold and wind can enter the body and cause illnesses like common colds.
Astragalus is traditionally used to strengthen Qi in TCM, and to act as a restorative tonic that replenishes Qi when it’s been depleted. In TCM it’s also understood to have supportive effects on defensive Qi, which it exerts by helping to stabilise the exterior surface of the body.
Astragalus root is traditionally taken in TCM not only to enhance immune defences, but also to increase vitality and help the body to cope during times of stress.
Understanding astragalus from a Western herbal medicine perspective
In addition to its widespread use in TCM, astragalus has been used in Western herbal medicine since the 1800s, where it’s traditionally taken to enhance immune defenses and improve the functioning of the immune system (for example to stimulate healthy immune system responses) and to support the immune system in fighting against illness.
What other herbs can astragalus root be used with?
In TCM, astragalus is rarely used alone, and instead is typically taken in combination with other herbs. An example might be reishi mushroom, which is used in TCM to enhance immunity and relieve fatigue and general feelings of being run down. Other herbs that astragalus is often combined within TCM include Chinese licorice, codonopsis, white atractylodes and fang feng.
How much Astragalus root should you take?
An adult dose equivalent to 6 grams of astragalus root taken once or twice daily is consistent with traditionally prescribed dosage regimes from TCM. This is easy to achieve in tablet form with Fusion's Astra 8 Immune Tonic.