By Dr. Mercola
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), a member of the pea family, is an adaptogenic herb with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an immune strengthening tonic, where it goes by the name of Huang Qi and Hwanqqi. Another English name for this shrub is milkvetch.
Adaptogenic herbs help your body adapt to physical, emotional or mental stress. The immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of astragalus also lowers your risk for infections and other diseases. The most important part of the plant is its root, which has a distinct yellow color. For medical use, the root is made into powder, herbal decoctions, tea, capsules and ointments. The raw root can also be used in cooking.
Astragalus oil, which you can make yourself, also has both therapeutic and cosmetic uses. Taken internally, astragalus oil helps boost your immune response by promoting the production of antibodies. It also helps maintain your digestive health and can help alleviate ulcers by promoting the healthy balance of gastric juices and gastric acid in your stomach.
As most adaptogens, astragalus has a rather long list of potential uses. Products containing astragalus have been shown useful in the treatment of chronic weakness and fatigue, bloating, heart failure, night sweats, nephritis, urinary tract infections, allergies, and cold and flu prevention. To take full advantage of this medicinal plant, why not consider growing some in your backyard?1,2,3
Astragalus Growing and Harvesting Guide
Astragalus is a perennial plant with hairy stems that can grow up to 4 feet tall, producing small yellow flowers that eventually turn into egg-shaped beans. Flowering season runs from midsummer through late fall. It grows well in zones 6 through 11. Seeds will germinate in three to 10 days following a three-week-long cold period. However, seed germination rate tends to be low, and should you store seeds, be sure to use them within two years. After that, they may no longer germinate at all.
Once your seeds have been cold stratified, rub the seed on fine sandpaper to rough up the outer shell. Just don’t rub too hard, as you don’t want to damage the inside. This procedure may seem onerous, but will help accelerate and improve germination. Next, soak the seeds in water for a few hours or overnight. Now, the seeds are ready for planting. Start out by planting the seeds in a small pot or starter tray, using high quality seed starting mix.
Press the seeds about one-quarter inch to 1 inch into the soil and cover. Keep soil moist but not soggy until seeds start to sprout. Keep the pots on a window sill or in an area that receives morning sun. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches tall, transfer them to larger pots or straight into your garden, provided there’s no risk of frost.
Contrary to many other plants, astragalus prefers dry, sandy soil, and needs partial shade to full sun. Ideal pH is around 7. If you plant more than one, space them at least 15 feet apart. Since sandy soils tend to dry out quickly, you may need to water more regularly than other plants until it’s established.
Whether you’re growing it in a pot or in the ground, make sure the root ball stays moist. This is particularly important during the summer. Mulching around it will help retain water by slowing down evaporation. Every few months, apply compost or rotted manure around the plant. Avoid all synthetic, inorganic fertilizers and pesticides if you intend to use the root medicinally. Keep in mind that astragalus has a tendency to get invasive if it’s in an ideal spot, so prune annually to maintain the desired shape and size.
The medicinal root can be harvested after two to three years. Two years is generally considered the minimum, or else the rootstock will not be adequately large to make something out of. To harvest the root, use a garden fork or needle-nose spade to loosen the soil around the plant to where you can pull up the taproot.
How to Make Astragalus Oil
Once you’ve harvested the root, there are a variety of ways you can use it. As mentioned earlier, you can make your own astragalus oil for topical or internal use. Here’s how:
- Combine the root and the oil in the double boiler. The ideal ratio would be 1 cup of carrier oil to every 1/4 ounce of astragalus
- Heat slowly over low heat (140 degrees Fahrenheit) for six to eight hours.
- When done, strain the mixture and transfer it to a glass jar or container of your choice
How to Make Astragalus Tincture
Another alternative is to make a tincture, which can be taken internally as needed. Heather Harris with The Homesteading Hippy provides a simple 1-to-5 tincture recipe on her site, summarized here. She suggests placing the tincture in capsules if you don’t like the flavor. For more details and dosage suggestions, see thehomesteadinghippy.com.4
- Pour 10 grams of shredded astragalus root into a large bottle or jar
- Add 50 milliliters (ml) — 3.38 tablespoons — of 80 proof vodka (if using smaller amounts, use 1 gram of astragalus root for every 5 ml of vodka)
- Cap the bottle or jar and let the herbs soak for 30 days
- After 30 days, strain out the root and store the tincture in a glass eyedropper bottle. Stored tightly capped in a cool, dark place, the tincture’s shelf life will be several years
How to Make Astragalus Tea
For an immune-boosting beverage, try making an astragalus tea, made from either fresh or dried root. A simple recipe by Leaf.tv is as follows:5
- In a pot, add 4 ounces of fresh astragalus root, or 3 to 5 tablespoons of dried root, to 1 quart of water
- Boil the root for three to four minutes
- Strain to remove root and debris
- Serve hot or cold
Astragalus Immune-Boosting Soup Recipe
Last but not least, fresh astragalus root can also be used in your cooking. Chicken soup is known to help speed up the recovery process when you’re sick. By incorporating the astragalus herb, you’re giving it an added medicinal kick. Here’s a sample recipe from homemadechinesesoups.com.6
- 1 free-range organic chicken thigh
- 4 slices of astragalus root
- 8 red dates
- 1 tablespoon goji berries
- 500 ml water (17 ounces or a little over a pint)
Procedure (for double-boiling jar)
- Wash and clean the chicken thigh. Trim away excess fat and skin.
- Parboil the chicken thigh.
- Soak the astragalus, red dates and goji berries for a short while.
- Cut the red dates into halves and remove the seeds.
- Place all the ingredients into the double-boiling jar.
- Pour enough cold water into the jar to cover the ingredients.
- Place the jar into a deep pot and fill the pot with water until the jar is half submerged.
- Bring the pot of water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about one hour.
- Add salt to taste before serving.
Source: mercola rss