How does it feel?
Astragalus root has a sweet, slightly sour taste, like some exotic fruit, ending with a distinctly soapy sweet aftertaste.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of astragalus’s key qualities below to learn more:
The sweetness of astragalus is due to both its prominent polysaccharide (complex sugar) and saponin content; the aftertaste reminds us that ‘saponin’ derives from the Latin for soap. Astragalus also lathers when shaken in water, a quality that the ancients were wise to take seriously.
What can I use it for?
If you are prone to repeated colds or other viral infections or otherwise have impaired immune defences, then taking astragalus root regularly over several months has been found to improve resilience. The value of astragalus is likely to be greater if you have had blood tests that show low white blood cell counts.
It may add further benefits if there is an allergic quality to the respiratory problems, for example they are worse in spring and summer, or when mould counts are high, in damp autumn and winter seasons.
The symptoms above are often combined with low energies, and astragalus was a traditional remedy for chronic fatigue states. This is especially appropriate when the fatigue is judged to be ‘post-viral’ and or when it is linked to reduced appetite. Astragalus is the first-choice herb for fatigue treatment in traditional Chinese medicine.
It is also the main herb used in hospitals for stroke recovery in China and Taiwan. As well as reinforcing its role in building resilience this points to a benefit for a wide range of circulatory problems. It can provide safe background support for other treatments for heart symptoms and circulatory problems where these are exacerbated by fatigue and low energies.
For the optimum benefit it is probably better to look out for a dried root powder supplement, and use only liquid forms that have been carefully prepared to extract both the polysaccharides and the saponins.
Into the heart of astragalus
Astragalus is traditionally highly regarded as a tonic remedy. In the language of Traditional Chinese Medicine it was seen to tonify both active energies (qi) and those that build resilience (xue or Blood), as well as supporting the Chinese concept of the Spleen (the function controlling assimilation in this body – thus being used where fatigue is linked to decreased appetite).
The root has been used for many hundreds of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic in fatigue, especially with decreased appetite, spontaneous sweating and diarrhoea. Also to reduce blood loss and improve kidney function. and to recover from postpartum fever, organ prolapse, uterine bleeding and and other severe loss of blood.
What practitioners say
Respiratory: recurrent viral infections are probably the prime use of astragalus in modern practice.
Circulation: use as a heart tonic in recovery from a wide range of cardiovascular problems as it will help steady the heart beat and improve cardiac performance. It is specific after viral endocarditis.
Urinary: helpful in the aftermath of kidney disease by improving urine elimination and other kidney functions
Metabolic and inflammatory: likely particularly to benefit chronic low-level inflammatory (especially viral) conditions associated with leucopenia and other evidence of compromised immunity. Also helpful in reducing inflammatory pressures in pre-diabetes or “metabolic syndrome’, where there is also high cholesterol and related markers.
Reproductive system: astragalus traditional reputation could be harnessed to supporting women with heavy blood loss from periods; it was also used by midwives in China to help stop postpartum bleeding.
Viral conditions: consider astragalus in supporting regimes recovering from a wide range of viral conditions like endocarditis, cervicitis or pneumonia.
Did you know?
Astragalus is derived from a Greek word to describe its reputation for increasing production of goat milk.
Winter Tonic Elixir
This is a fun and easy-to-make ‘winter tonic elixir’ with a mix of herbs that raise your energy and warm you to the core.
- Brandy 700ml/25fl oz
- Amaretto 300ml/10fl oz
- Ginseng root 20g/3/4oz
- Astragalus 10g/1/3oz
- Cinnamon bark 10g (about 2 quills)
- Ashwagandha 5g
- Ginger root powder 5g
- Rosemary 2 sprigs
- Orange peel 5g
This makes 1 litre/35fl oz of tasty tincture.
- Blend the liquids and soak the herbs in it for 1 month and then strain. Bottle half for you and half for a friend.
- Sip on cold winter nights to raise your spirits and keep you strong.
Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
Generally safe and no problems are expected.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
Rasa (taste) sweet, pungent
Virya (action) heating
Vipaka (post-digestive effect) sweet
Guna (quality) heavy, smooth, penetrating, hot
Dosha effect: balances all doshas, in excess aggravates pitta and kapha
Dhatu (tissue) rakta/blood, rasa/plasma, majja/nerve, mamsa/muscle
Srotas (channels) anna/digestive, mutra/urinary, rakta/circulatory
Much of the clinical research literature until recently has been published in China, in Chinese, and relates often to the widespread medical practice there of prescribing astragalus extracts by intravenous injection. This mode of application avoids the digestive breakdown of polysaccharides and so delivers a remedy that is not comparable with traditional oral consumption. Other research literature applies to astragalus in combination with other ingredients.
There is also a considerable research literature that refers to laboratory studies. The difficulty with this evidence is that two key groups of constituents will not reach the tissues unaffected by their transformation in the digestive system. Polysaccharides are unlikely to survive early stomach digestion at all and the saponins will be significantly changed, including by the action of the microbiome.
The following are clinical trials that refer to astragalus taken alone and by mouth.
In a preliminary randomised controlled clinical trial among patients with post-stroke fatigue astragalus was found, compared with placebo, to improve fatigue scores; cognitive functioning, social functioning, and global quality-of-life scores.
In a double-blind crossover clinical trial a supplement with an extract of astragalus was found to improve cholesterol balance and reduce TNF-α (a marker of inflammation) in patients with metabolic syndrome (a precursor to diabetes). Benefits for heart function were also seen when astragalus was added to standard prescriptions in cases of postmenopausal women with metabolic syndrome. A diuretic action has been observed in a small placebo-controlled study on healthy men astragalus increased urinary sodium and chloride excretion during the first 4 hours athough not 12 hours. Test results indicated enhanced kidney responses to endogenous atrial natriuretic peptide. A key saponin astragaloside IV was ruled out as the active principle.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
10 to 30 g/day of the dried root as a powder or by decoction.
- Triterpenoid saponins (including astragalosides I to VIII)
- Isoﬂavonoids (including formononetin)
- Essential oil