The Chinese Herb Astragalus in the Ultimate Immune Boosting Soup

by: Jennifer Dubowsky

astragalus, one of the best chinese herbs for health

Astragalus is actually a genus of a plant with over 2000 species. Its Chinese name, Huang qi, means “yellow leader” because this long yellow  root is one of the most important herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM)  and commonly used as  far back as the 1st century AD.

Astragalus  is a great herb for fall as it helps your immune system prevent colds, allergies and the flu.

Its familiarity in the US may be attributed to extensive scientific study that began in the 1970s. Research has confirmed the herb's ability to cause minimal disruption to the body while normalizing body functions, no matter the condition or disease.

Astragalus is deservedly popular because it helps the body in a variety of ways. It stimulates the immune system so it is often used for treating the common cold and upper respiratory infections. Astragalus strengthens the body during periods of immune deficiency and is effective with allergies and in avoidance of the white blood cell deficiencies (leukopenia) that occur during chemotherapy. It also fights bacteria, viruses, and inflammation; it protects the liver, acts as a diuretic, benefits digestive functions, and treats disorders of the skin from burns to carbuncles. It is used in the treatment of hepatitis, chronic colitis, senility, cardiovascular diseases and AIDS and viral conditions because it increases interferon production and enhances NK and T-cell function. Finally, Astragalus can be used to promote the functions of several other herbs, such as Dan Shen (Salvia) and Dang Gui (Angelica sinensis root).

Astragalus is also used by itself, usually as a liquid extract, or a tea, Dosage depends on the application and form. When I was in Graduate school some of my professors would always add Huang Qi/Astragalus into their chicken soup stock.

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by Cathy
Here's a soup recipe I call The Ultimate Immune Booster
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 bulb garlic (at least 10 cloves)minced
  • One 1 1⁄2 inch piece of fresh ginger root grated
  • 1 1⁄2 cups vegetable soup stock (I prefer homemade chicken broth, make ahead & keep frozen)
  • 5 pieces sliced dried Astragalus Root   (find at an Asian grocery store or look for an online source)
  • 2 cups fresh, sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 large reishi mushroom pinch of cayenne powder

What is Titanium Dioxide Doing in My Vitamin Supplements?

pacherbs.com“Vitamins are good for us’” is the overwhelming consensus if you ask just about anybody.  They support our body functions and gives us the extra nutrients we need. So what’s titanium dioxide, (now categorized as a carcinogenic in Canada)  doing in bottles from some of the largest vitamins manufacturers.  If you’re like me, this news comes as a big surprise.

How can that be you ask?  The question you should be asking is, do you read your vitamin bottles, herbal supplements and cosmetics carefully enough to know what your buying? Below is the label of one of the largest vitamin manufactures in the U.S.  Check out the nomenclature,  CAREFULLY!  If your not a chemist it may look like a foreign language.  This is the real label, nothing added or subtracted. INGREDIENTS: Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Dibasic Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), Ferrous Fumarate, Pregelatinized Corn Starch, dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E). Contains < 2% of: Acacia, Beta-Carotene, BHT, Biotin, Boric Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Calcium Stearate, Cholecalciferol (Vit. D3), Chromium Picolinate, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Crospovidone, Cupric Sulfate, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), FD&C Yellow No. 6 Aluminum Lake, Folic Acid, Gelatin, Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Hypromellose, Manganese Sulfate, Medium-Chain Triglycerides, Modified Food Starch, Niacinamide, Nickelous Sulfate, Phytonadione (Vit. K), Polyethylene Glycol, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Potassium Iodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Metavanadate, Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenate, Sorbic Acid, Stannous Chloride, Sucrose, Talc, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vit. B1), Titanium Dioxide, Tocopherols, Tribasic Calcium Phosphate, Vitamin A Acetate (Vit. A), Zinc Oxide. May also contain < 2% of Ascorbyl Palmitate, Maltodextrin, Sodium Aluminosilicate, Sunflower Oil.

You are not alone if you’re having a hard time understanding the names on this list of ingredients. Certainly, this is not a product you should purchase if you are looking for a healthy vitamin. There was once a time when we received all our vitamins from the foods we ate and the water we drank.  Sadly, it is no longer the case. Vitamins and minerals once plentiful in our soil have been depleted by years of over-harvesting and the use of harsh fertilizers. Taking supplements is necessary today.  But to include un-pronounceable chemicals into vitamin supplements is obscene. This practice by the large manufacturers is not done for fun, all these chemicals actually have a purpose.  Some prevent the gluing together of the tablets, others provide a pleasing color or help the machinery so they don’t clog when filling bottles or capsules.  But why would we want to include these chemicals into our vitamins and herbal supplements when they have never been part of the food chain? Have you seen FD&C Yellow No. 6 Aluminum Lake (included in the list above) grown anywhere or does it come from an animal? The answer is nobody really wants to ingest these chemicals.  Yet ingesting any substance, never before in our food supply worries me.  The trace amounts of scary sounding chemicals may seem like insignificant risk factors but when you add up the number of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis it becomes alarming,  as do cancers rates. We have no real data on how these chemicals react in our bodies, yet the FDA has approved the use of these chemicals in food products. What about herbal supplements?  Many contain a similarly long list of added chemicals and preservatives.

Do you buy from reputable manufacturers?  Do you read the labels?  Pacific Herbs herbal products are produced with the highest grade raw herbs available.  All our raw herbs are inspected and tested for 200 different impurities. This is the only way to know the raw products are pure and void of contaminants.  We package our herbs in individual stay-fresh packets to avoid the use of fillers, binders, excipients and flow agents.  We figured you probably get enough unknown chemicals from everyday life, you don’t need anymore in your health supplements.

Acupuncture in Sports Medicine makes it to the major leagues

Here’s a great article for baseball fans and anyone who might want to consider a Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture treatment after their own weekend warrior workout.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher, Randy Johnson, stays in the game with acupuncture. Credit: ©2009 S.F. Giants
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher, Randy Johnson, stays in the game with acupuncture. Credit: ©2009 S.F. Giants

The San Franciso Giants, the L.A. Lakers, the NY Mets and NASCAR all have their own Acupuncturist to treat their athletes on a regular basis.  Acupuncture Today just published a story on the  SF Giants and their acupuncturist Haro Ogawa.  Head Trainer for the Giants, David Groeschner had this to say  “The players love him and love the treatments. In our game, we are out there every day, so the players

Tom Cruise Wants To Eat Placenta, Mixed with Chinese Herbs

EatinPlacenta encapsulationg the human placenta has gone Hollywood. Oprah loves to discuss alternatives to non-conventional medicine. Tom Cruise was planning on eating Katie’s placenta.  Chinese Herbal Medicine encourages the mother to ingest the placenta. Other mammals do it.  Why shouldn’t we? If you know someone who’s pregnant the concept of having the baby’s placenta prepared and taken in capsule form can bring a huge boost to the new mother as she recuperates from nine months of gestation. Maybe it will just become the hottest new baby gift, for mom?  Add some Chinese herbs to boost milk production and both mother and baby are on the way to good health. Check out our article: Eating the Afterbirth, a Chinese Medical Tradition.

The Gap Between Diet and Disease, Part II of Diet Theories

An old Chinese Proverb says,  He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skill of the physician.

The Chinese have used food and Chinese herbs, basically the human diet, to treat seemingly incurable diseases as far back as records can show.  We now have studies that prove that foods and Chinese herbs are effective in treating nearly every affliction known to man. It is a Western concept  that  the word “diet”  refers almost exclusively  to a  weight  loss system.  A Chinese diet  may or may not  focus on weight loss, but it’s primary intention is to treat an ailment.   A Westerners “diet” focuses on protein, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients, whereas a Chinese diet  focuses on the:  Five Flavors, Five Energies, Movements of Foods and Organic Actions of Foods.  Maybe this sounds like a foreign language, but the basic concept is pretty easy, if I feel cold, I should eat something warm.  If I feel hot, I should eat something cold. (don’t  we all do this?)

 

This is of course a simplification and I know you want more details. It can get a little more technical,  so stay with me.

weight-loss-diet

I covered the Five Flavors and Five Energies is a part one of this article. Connect here to read that article.

 

Here I will delve into the “Movement of Foods” and “Organic Actions of Foods”.  

The movements of  foods has nothing to do with a musical score. Foods have a tendency to move inward, outward, up or down within us.  To move inwards means to move from outside towards the inside.  Foods that do this often alleviate constipation.  Foods that provide movement from inside towards outside reduce fever and induce sweating.   Downward moving foods can relieve vomiting and asthma.  Upward moving foods  help symptoms of diarrhea, and prolapsed of organs. This is only a general overview, but even a little knowledge can be of great benefit.  The movement of foods also corresponds to the seasons.

 

Here is a brief overview of  which foods are best in which seasons.  Springtime is all about growth and upward movement so eat foods that also promote an upward movement such as celery, kidney beans and shiitake mushrooms. Foods that move outward are best in the summer these foods have a hot energy and are usually pungent like green pepper, red pepper, black peppers and soybean oil.  In the autumn foods with a downward movement are preferred.  The downward movement corresponds to the leaves falling.  Food such as bananas, barley and bean curd are best in the autumn.   Lastly, in the winter eat foods that move inward, just as we move indoors in the winter.  Inward moving foods include bitter gourd, clams and seaweed.

 

Lastly, a brief introduction about the Organic Actions of Foods,  it’s not a Greenpeace protest.  It simply refers to the specific organ on which a particular food will act.  In the West we may think all food goes to the stomach, the intestines and through the digestive organs.  But there is more  to the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”.  Different foods really do effect different organ systems in Chinese medicine and diet theory.  This can get complicated, many foods have more than one energy and act on more than one organ. Carrots act on the lungs, wheat on the heart, spleen and kidneys, almonds act on the lungs.

 

Organic actions of  foods have been discovered  throughout history  through both inductive and deductive methods. Traditional Chinese medicine has always put great emphasis on the association of  foods and our internal organs.  A simple example is chicken liver, it’s helpful for blurry vision, and Chinese Medicine believes our livers are connected to our eyes.

 

I have simplified how  a balanced diet in Chinese theory  focuses on the Five Flavors,  Five Energies, Movements and Organic Actions of foods. Yet, I hope you understand that from a Chinese viewpoint the word  “diet” has almost nothing to do with weight  loss and everything to do with how foods effect our body.  An organic balanced diet is one that is not necessarily rich in organic foods, but one that balances the internal organs. An individual’s balanced diet is always a mixture of foods with different flavors and energies suited to the needs of that individuals constitution.   I hope this is not such a foreign concept now even though it  may be a completely new view of diet and nutrition for you.  Sun Shu Mao wrote about it approximately 1400 years ago and seeing that history always repeats itself, it’s time to reiterate it today.   If you want to learn more check out:  Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford and my other blogs on Chinese Medicine and foods.

Traditional Chinese Medicine – around the world in 60 seconds

I  like tChinese_Herbs1he CNN news piece called around the world in 60 seconds.  It gives you a quick blurb of  whats happening around the world.   Here’s my take on that theme.  The spread of Traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM ) around the world in 60 seconds. 

Hope you like numbers,  in regards to TCM here’s some interesting ones.  In the past 10 years, TCM has spread to over 160 countries and regions around the world with total exports of TCM products exceeding $1 billion. The treatment, education and scientific and technological communities of  TCM have continuously expanded.  70 countries have signed 94 governmental agreements on TCM content. There are currently 47 TCM institutions of higher learning in China and over 600,000 qualified TCM medical practitioners over 370,000 of which are certified TCM physicians.  

In America alone, 30 million people have tried acupuncture. The FDA  estimates that Americans are spending approximately $500 million per year on acupuncture services.  There are about 18,000 acupuncturists in the U.S. and  that  number increases about 10% each year.  Presently there are approximately 50 accredited schools in the U.S. to study acupuncture and TCM.  Britain, Israel and Australia all top the list with the highest number of acupuncturists per country outside of  the US. Canada and Asian countries.

In the U.S., besides pain management, one of the most studied benefits of acupuncture is IVF procedures. Acupuncture concurrent with IVF treatments  increases  the chance of becoming pregnant by as much as 65% and  provides as much as 91% increased chance  in a live birth.   Those are some impressive statistics. This is of course only one example of how acupuncture and TCM can improve people’s lives.

A fun fact: cruise ships now regularly have acupuncturists aboard. Public demand is obviously driving that business.  On a more academic note,  The National Institute for Health (NIH) operates the  Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine with a 121 million dollar budget,  much of which support acupuncture research studies. Currently our congressmen are discussing a bill which for the first time would  include Acupuncture into medicare reimbursement.  That’s impressive by itself.  The American government is actually considering a form of health care which relies on prevention and wellness.

Things are changing rapidly in the TCM world, stay tuned, we are growing exponentially everyday and that’s my 60 second update.

Malaria and how Chinese Medicine is Advancing Science

microscope for malariaIn case you haven’t already heard, today is World Malaria Day,
April 25th, 2009.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Malaria Day than to write  on a Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb and it’s benefits for  malaria. Ok, I know most of us in the west don’t know much or maybe anything about this disease. Some may even be thinking… isn’t malaria one of those plagues from the middle age

Malaria is the number one killer in underdeveloped countries, especially prevalent in Africa where it’s an epidemic. As many as 5 million people each year contract malaria, many recover, many do not. Malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide each year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars for malaria research with the goal of eliminating malaria in our lifetime and by the looks of recent developments, well… read on.

So what does this have to do with Chinese herbal medicine and why did I choose this topic? Malaria has been successfully treated with Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. This is not news, well not to Acupuncturists or Chinese Medical Doctors nor to the scientists and drug companies searching out a cure or a vaccine for malaria. What is news is what Reuters published in an article (yesterday) which I’ve cited below and am quoting here, “elimination (of malaria) in a number of countries is certainly in sight.” Fantastic, right?!

Here’s what really exciting! “New medical treatments such as a drug developed by a Swiss pharmaceuticals company  Novartis using artemisinin, a compound derived from a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine, are driving down deaths and infections, said “Chris Hentschel”  of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.” The FDA has also recently approved the drug Coartem, an artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) for malaria, which is said to have a 96% cure rate  Can you imagine: A pharmaceutical company using an herb-derived compound? Should we be shocked?

We in the Chinese Medical community are not shocked. We know the use of Chinese Medicinal herbs have been used for centuries with g areat success and we’ve all known that Artemisinin, Qing Hao, has been successfully used in the treatment of malaria. But doesn’t it feels great to be vindicated through “Big Pharma” ? When any big pharmaceutical company decides to study the compounds in “our” (Chinese) medicine cabinet we can all stand proud and say, look big pharma, our herbs have proven compounds that even your labs haven’t been able to invent and there’s more in the medicine cabinet than just Artemisinin.

The credibility of Chinese herbal medicine is coming full circle in the scientific age. We can only hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine has a 2000 plus year history. Reuter’s goes on to report, “The treatment, administered to 57 million people last year, saved half a million lives last year.” That’s big news! If there was a drug that saved 500,00 people in the US, last year alone, we would be hearing about it. Because it’s in underdeveloped nations, this news doesn’t make the nightly 5 o’clock. But I can think of no better way than to start my blog page with what should be the Biggest News in the world today, especially on World Malaria Day.

Post Script:

A prominent physician and alchemist named Ge Hong (284-364CE) wrote a formulary called Zhou Hou Bei Zhi Fang (Prescriptions within Arm”s Reach for Use in Emergencies) Many of the formulas in this book are still in use today. He was the first to mention qing hao, (Artemisia Annua) as a treatment for malaria.