Millions of kilos of this herb are sold throughout Asia every year, yet most Americans have never heard of it. It is Astragalus Membranaceous, also know as Huang Qi and it’s one of the greatest immune boosting, fatigue fighting herbs in the world. The functioning plant part is the root which has been native to Northern China and Mongolia for centuries. I’m excited to see Astragalus cultivation has begun in the U.S. Once found only in the wild, a wild root commonly grows 2-3 feet long and are more highly prized than a smaller cultivated root. The far more common product today is the cultivated version of Astragalus root which is usually only about a foot long and less dense which is obvious once it is sliced into long thin pieces, the usual way it is packaged and sold in the states.
Asian cultures will traditionally add Astragalus to various soups and stews. Chicken soup with Astragalus tastes delicious and is probably the best way to boost your immune system when the seasons are changing. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it has been used for centuries to boost the Wei Qi. This Wei Qi acts like a shield which circulates in our skin, or the outermost layer of the body. Wei Qi is also known as Defensive Qi because it is the energy that protects us from outside bacteria and viruses.
Astragalus has warming properties and is known for it’s fatigue fighting, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Traditionally in Chinese Medicine it is used as an energy tonic and protector for the pancreas. It’s a fantastic herb for chronically weak lungs or anyone who catches frequent colds. There have been hundreds to thousands of studies done on Astragalus, both used as a single herb remedy and in a popular formula in Chinese Medicine called Jade Windscreen Formula or The Great Protector. This formula or combination of three herbs was originally written circa 1000 AD and as the name implies it acts like a wind screen preventing outside influences to penetrate the body. In recent research, Astragalus has shown to contain the same molecules found to reverse aging. One caveat, Huang Qi is most effectively used before catching a cold or flu. For anyone with an auto-immune disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, astragalus should be used under the strict care of a trained herbalist because astragalus is known for increasing immune system activity and may worsen these conditions.
If you are often fatigued, have cold extremities and seem to catch every cold going around, Astragalus is the perfect herbal supplement. Drink Astragalus as a tea or take it as a processed supplement for approximately two weeks before the change of seasons and before catching any colds or flu. Astragalus can be found in pill form, dried granule form or raw. If you are planning on adding it to a soup you’ll want the raw sliced roots. The more yellow in color the better the quality. However, in the U.S. it is often difficult to get the highest quality because the market here is limited compared to the oversees market.
As I mentioned most Americans are naïve to the incredible immune enhancing properties of this food, but you can always find it in Asian markets in several different packages at different price points. Lesser quality raw Astragalus appears more white to beige in color and is less aromatic. Granules may be more convenient if you want to add them to a healthy juice or smoothie. Granules are a concentrated extract of the root after it is cooked and dried and will carry a much higher concentration of the active ingredients than if you used the raw root. Pill form may be convenient but be careful where you purchase Chinese herbs. Knowing the herbal supplier is crucial in getting an effective, potent and safe product.