What are astragalus benefits?
Astragalus has been recognized for over 2,000 years in the Traditional Chinese Medical System as one of the most potent "Chi tonic herbs" available.
It is not actually an "herb", however, but the woody root of the Astragalus membranaceus plant species that is responsible for its renowned energy building properties.
Astragalus is classified as a major tonic herb within the Chinese herbal system. These types of herbs are not medicinal in nature, in that they do not correct specific ailments, but are used in a tonifying fashion rather than to cure an already existing illness. They are considered extremely healthy foods and astragalus, as such, offers tremendous value as a naturally stimulating energizer and immune enhancing adaptogen.
In fact, astragalus root is probably most well known in the Western world for its positive effects on boosting the immune system when used over a period of time.
Some of the active constituents that make this possible are the triterpenoid saponins called astragalosides, like the all popular "astragaloside IV." Additional components include other immuno-stimulating polysaccharides, like astragalus-specific glucans and heteroglycans as well as flavonoids and trace minerals such as selenium.
Like many of the other major tonics and medicinal mushroom varieties, we consider astragalus a deeply nourishing "food" that can nutritionally support a busy and active lifestyle. It is one of our personal top favorite superfoods we consume as a liquid tea or as an added ingredient in shakes, soup broths and elixirs.
The root slices are firm and fibrous with a light yellow color and a sweet, pleasant taste. As with most all tonics, astragalus benefits are released when simmered in hot water or tinctured in an alcohol solution.
In TCM astragalus benefits both the lung and spleen systems, supporting energy conversion from the food we eat as well as the air we breathe. As an immune modulator it specifically works to tonify what the Chinese call "Wei Qi", the protective energy that runs under the skin layer and also penetrates into the vital organ systems.
Astragalus benefits are also known to support metabolism, reduce inflammation and strengthen the musculature, especially helpful for those who are physically active. The root teas or extracts additionally help to improve the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, adrenal glands and can provide quick energy for fatigued individuals.
Astragalus membranaceus, or also referred to as Astragalus propinquus, is indigenous to Northern China and Mongolia but many species can be found growing in Europe as well as the Western U.S. and Canada. The actual Chinese Astragalus membranaceus variety is very adaptable to different growing conditions and was first introduced to the U.S. in 1925.
Growing about 1-2 feet in height, with alternating leaves and small yellow flowers, astragalus is a member of the legume family Fabaceae. The roots are traditionally harvested when the plant is between 4-5 years old and sliced when fresh into long thin strips that look like tongue depressors.
Astragalus is one of the superfood varieties we recommend growing in your own garden or permaculture landscape. Although it will take at least 4 years before you can harvest the roots, it is fairly easy to grow in deep, sandy, well-drained soil with a good amount of sun exposure. Many rare plants and herbs can be purchased from Strictly Medicinals, either as seeds or as seedlings depending on where you live.
Astragalus is a famed immune system adaptogen that shields us from getting sick and also deeply fortifies immune functions. Its effects as a double-directional adaptogen modulator are due in part to its antioxidative triterpene saponin glycosides known as astragalosides, in addition to the polysaccharide glucans and astragalus heteroglycans.
These components work to fight infection and boost immunity by enhancing T-cells and NK cell activity, regulating the thymus gland and stimulating the production of white blood cells.
According to one study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology the "triterpene saponins showed powerful immunostimulatory properties" and are believed to be one of the primary mechanisms involved in the "immunomodulatory and anticancer effects of Astragalus species."
Some of the active polysaccharide constituents found in Astragalus membranaceus have been widely studied with respect to their ability to counteract the negative side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"Astragalus injection supplemented with chemotherapy could inhibit the development of tumors, decrease the toxic-adverse effect of chemotherapy, elevate the immune function of organism and improve the quality of life in patients." (Source)
Astragalus, called "Huang Qi" in Chinese, essentially benefits the immune functions in two main ways according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It supports both Yang Chi and Yin Chi, the two major immune regulating components.
Astragalus benefits regulate "Wei Qi", referred to as the protective Yang element or "Protective Qi", and correlates to the Western secretory immune system. Wei Qi is especially well known for energizing and warming the yang exterior of the body, outer limbs, legs and arms.
Wei Qi tonifies and protects circulation of blood just under the skins surface and in the musculature of the body. It also opens and closes pores, speeds up the healing of skin and circulates in the subcutaneous tissues providing suppleness to the flesh and adaptive quality to the epidermis layer.
Wei Qi pulls Chi into the body from the air we breath and the food we eat and therefore works directly to tonify the lung and spleen meridians.
Astragalus also penetrates deeper into the vital organ systems, providing vitality and energy by nourishing the bloodstream, building blood and actively moving it through the vessels.
This is the Yin element that works parallel with the deeper immune functions and bone marrow reserve, helpful for building white blood cells as well as encouraging other immune cell activity. It additionally regulates fluids, metabolism and various digestive elements.
Astragalus is also referred to as Astragali radix by many herbalists and is often classified and used with other activating herbs for its energy restorative qualities.
It is notably specific for building "Chi", one of the three treasures in Chinese herbalism. All of the major tonic herbs work specifically on one or
two of these three distinctive levels (Jing, Chi and Shen), each influencing the other.
Chi is the aspect that involves function of thought, movement and active energy, helping to increase mental clarity, physical endurance, immunity and recovery from fatigue or exhaustion. As an energy tonic, astragalus is naturally tonifying to the lung and spleen, the two major systems with direct functions at transforming the oxygen we take in and the food we consume into life energy.
Astragalus is considered a non-caffeinated herbal stimulant that simultaneously encourages a general state of tranquility and positive emotional mood. This quality is often described in TCM as a "child-like energy", being more "in the moment" with a joyful yet grounded approach to life.
Consuming astragalus as a tea or extract can be quite instantaneously energizing for many people. This is because Chi tonics provide vitality for many organs in the body and help to increase the amount of blood flowing through these systems. As with all the tonic herbs, astragalus benefits are accumulative and build up over a period of routine use.
It is a particularly great herbal supplement for today's busy fast paced world as it provides the necessary restorative support to help guard against adrenal burnout and fatigue that often results from a highly active lifestyle and/or extreme levels of daily stress.
Astragalus is very well known for its effects at promoting strong muscle development and general fitness to the exterior of the body, legs and arms. It is particularly helpful for athletic training as well as strenuous physical workouts that have higher energy output and an increased demand on the muscles.
It is often used with ginseng in herbal formulas for those involved in competitive sports.
Commonly used by athletes around the world for increasing physical endurance and for its muscle building qualities, astragalus benefits in this regard can, in part, be attributed to the constituent referred to as astragaloside IV, which is known to improve athletic capacity.
Astragalus root can be used with other superfoods, like cordyceps and ashwagandha, to increase stamina and concentrated energy reservoirs needed for heightened athletic performance. The root slices or pieces can additionally be decocted with schizandra berries, another Chinese tonic, for enhancing endurance during physical exercise.
Certain polysaccharides in astragalus root have been shown to exhibit an anti-inflammatory action which may be helpful for health conditions or disorders prone to inflammatory reactions in the body.
In a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine analyzing these anti-inflammatory effects it states, "These results suggest that Astragalus polysaccharide effectively ameliorates palmitate-induced pro-inflammatory responses through AMPK activity."
This is also perhaps one of the reasons why astragalus is a widely used tonic herb prescribed to enhance cardiovascular functions and in one study was shown beneficial for congestive heart failure. "Astragalus could improve the immune function of congestive heart failure patients, and can be taken as an important auxiliary treatment for CHF." (*) Other research from China suggests that it may be helpful for lowering cholesterol in addition to improving overall heart health.
It was recently discovered that one of the active ingredients in astragalus, astragaloside IV, contains a saponin called cycloastragenol which, when taken in concentrated doses, has been shown to activate the hTERT gene and increase the production of telomerase, an enzyme that preserves and lengthens telomeres.
It is important to note that astragalus teas, tinctures or hot water extracts only contain small amounts of astragaloside IV. Though it is still beneficial in lower doses, it is especially potent when developed as a unique compound and a few companies have isolated the cycloastragenol element to significantly increase its effectiveness.
Telomeres play a major role in cell replication and are components that make up our DNA strands. Telomeres naturally shorten as we grow older and are one of the primary factors involved in the aging process. Lengthening telomeres is currently being researched as a way to potentially help increase our biological life span.
According to current research there is a significant correlation between certain age-related diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and the length of ones telomeres. (*)
Some health authorities believe that these telomere increasing properties are directly linked with what the Chinese call "Upright Qi." This is the energy that counteracts the effects of gravity associated with the aging process.
In a 2014 study entitled "Cycloastragenol Is a Potent Telomerase
Activator in Neuronal Cells: Implications for Depression Management",
astragaloside IV was determined a useful supplemental therapy for subjects with
Astragaloside IV is furthermore being studied for its effects as an antiviral agent for combating HIV as well as the herpes virus. (*)
TA-65 is a special super supplement and proprietary extract now available that concentrates the telomerase activating ingredients found in the roots of Astragalus membranaceus. Developed by the company TA Sciences, it is currently one of the only supplements of its kind that has been shown to "turn on" telomerase and successfully lengthen telomeres.
Concentrated tinctures of astragalus are available, offering a quick easy way to drop some into a beverage or herbal tea. These tinctures are either alcohol or glycerin based.
Bulk Herb - Slices, Pieces or Powder
Dried astragalus root is available as small slices or is available sliced into long wood-like strips that look like flat tongue depressors. They are actually quite pleasant to chew
on, because they are somewhat sweet and taste a little bit like vanilla. These slices are more convenient to add to soups, stews or cooked grains because they can be easily removed after the cooking process.
High quality dried roots should be off-white or yellowish in color with some slight flexibility, not too dry and at least 4-5 years old. We often purchase whole slices and grind them down into powder form and sometimes blend them with other tonic roots. This can be achieved in a high speed blender or NutriBullet.
Bulk astragalus root needs to be decocted or simmered in water for 20 minutes to 4 hours, as is the case with most of the Chinese tonics. The longer you brew them the more potent the remaining liquid becomes. It is sometimes convenient to use a crock pot for longer cooking times.
You can also purchase it as a ground powder or as root pieces, this will significantly reduce the decoction time needed for atragalus benefits.
Hot Water Extracts
Hot water extracts are essentially astragalus teas that have been evaporated down into a fine powder. They are an effective way to use this longevity herb and receive the potent benefits astragalus root offers. They are available in capsule form, which is one of the best ways to consume A LOT of astragalus at one time, for a powerful energy boost when you need one. Powdered extracts can also be purchased as a loose powder.
Astragalus is a common ingredient found in many Chinese herbal formulations, used with other tonics like reishi, fo-ti root, schizandra, eucommia and goji berry.
Astragalus eeTee Powder
The company Dragon Herbs also has formulated a new extraction
method that allows for astragalus benefits without the use of heat.
This is how they describe it:
"Fingerprint Identical Transfer Technology (FITT) is a proprietary process that utilizes mechanical forces to break the raw materials down to micron level. The materials are “shaken” loose at tremendous speed, resulting in instantaneous extraction of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble components from the raw material into the solvent. The entire process is performed at a low to moderate temperatures that never exceeds 40°C (104° F), thus eliminating the drawbacks of a heated extraction."
When home brewing your own herbal teas, you can use astragalus with other tonic roots and herbs, like rhodiola, he shou wu, maca root or any of the Ayurvedic herbs, creating herbal formulations that help to reinforce the effectiveness of all ingredients used. (Try it in our energizing tea elixir recipe.)
Recommended dosage to start:
1-2T ground astragalus root (or about 2 large slices or 5 medium slices) to 1 quart of water
Simmer for at least 30 minutes or longer (for a stronger tea). You can also reuse your herbs if you decoct them for shorter periods of time.
It is also great to blend astragalus tea with cleansing and nutritive herbs. Some of these herbs you can infuse after the decoction period.
We like to add whole root slices to soups, stews and even cooked grains. It is always necessary to discard the astragalus root as it is non-edible.
Astragalus benefits the body in a powerful, yet gentle, safe way as a tonic building food.