Popularly known as milk vetch, the genus Astragalus is a big group consisting of around 2,000 species that can be found all over the world. A Membranaceus, a Chinese species, and its relative A Mongholicus, are said to be two varieties from the same species. The two are perennial herbs that are native to China, and are cultivated primarily in the Northern provinces. The herbs can also be found in Japan and Korea.
The most sought-after part of the herb that is used medicinally is the root, particularly when dried. The roots can be bought in long pieces that have a light interior and fibrous, tough skin. Some roots are fried with honey, although even when untreated, the root is already sweet and tastes like licorice.
Benefits of Astragalus
As an Ethnobotanical/Traditional Drug
The root has been used as a drug for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and is officially in the Chinese Pharmacopeia. It is mainly used as a tonic for the treatment of nephritis and diabetes. The herb is an integral part of the Chinese Fu-Zheng therapy that aims to restore the functions of the immune system. A lot of literature about the drug can be found in China.
As an Immunostimulant
One current medicinal application of Astragalus root in the US is as a counter-acting immunostimulant to the immune suppression linked to cancer therapy. This, however, is based only on the limited information from lab research observations. There is no extensive study that has so far produced sufficient clinical or animal data about the use of the herb as an immunostimulant.
As HIV Treatment
Another use of the herb in the US is for the control and management of HIV infection. Based on a series of reports in China, mixing Astragalus with other herbal medicines can provide help to HIV patients. However, these reports still need to be verified. One study showed very promising results, although a bigger clinical test may be necessary to confirm the effects as significant.
In traditional medicine Astragalus brings qi energy to the lungs and spleen. These meridians benefit the lymph and respiration and can improve your bodies ability to convert stored energy into functional life energy.
The herb is usually recommended to prevent the development of the common cold, but again, this application lacks the backing of published clinical trials.
A typical recommendation requires the consumption of 2 – 6g of the powdered root everyday, although there is no new clinical proof to back it up.
- Contraindications: It appears generally safe to use but the possibility of causing mutations need to be explored.
- Nursing/Pregnancy: Safety information regarding use by pregnant and nursing women is lacking.
- Side Effects: There are no significant data to establish common side effects.
- Toxicities: In the Ames test, the extract was observed to be mutagenic.
- Safety Rating: There are no significant safety concerns despite the herb’s being widely used.
The herb is also known as Huang Qi or Huang Chi
A Membranaceus and A Mongholicus are both scientific names for the Astragalus species used in medicine today.