What is Astragalus and why is it so popular during winter?

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Astragalus benefits Go Vita Australia

Astragalus is traditionally used to improve immunity and support vitality in Chinese medicine. Erika Bass explains.

Astragalus (pronounced ass-tra-gah-lus) is a herb that is traditionally used in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine. There are thousands of plants in the Astragalus genus, but the one that is most commonly used medicinally is Astragalus membranaceus, which is also known as Huang Qi and milk vetch.  

East and West 

Astragalus is native to northern China and Mongolia, so it is not surprising that its medicinal use originated in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The first mention of astragalus in TCM texts dates back 1800 years. Today, it is still considered one of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine. Based on its use in TCM, astragalus made its way into Western herbal medicine dispensaries in the 19th century. Today, it is a popular ingredient on the shelves of Go Vita stores around Australia, especially during the cooler months of the year. Specific benefits include:  

Traditional immunity booster: In both TCM and Western herbal medicine, astragalus root is traditionally taken to improve immune defences. For example, in TCM astragalus is traditionally taken to reduce the frequency of common colds, while in Western herbal medicine it is traditionally used to support and improve the functioning of the immune system when it’s working to fight off illness and also to promote healthy immune system responses. 

Qi, or ‘life energy’: In addition to its immunity-enhancing actions, astragalus is traditionally regarded as having a several other health benefits in TCM, many of which are centred on its effects on the life force energy known as Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). From the perspective of TCM, Qi influences all aspects of wellbeing, encompassing the body, mind and spirit. In TCM, astragalus is traditionally taken to strengthen Qi, and as a restorative tonic that replenishes Qi when its levels need topping up; it is traditionally considered especially beneficial for nourishing the Qi of the lungs. 

Qi and stress: In TCM, stress levels and Qi are considered closely intertwined. A stressful lifestyle – for example, one that features long hours of hard work – can deplete your Qi, which in Chinese medicine terms fuels all your physical functions. In a vicious cycle, if your Qi is out of balance, your ability to respond appropriately to the world around you may be as well. If that occurs, astragalus is traditionally taken in TCM to increase vitality; this aspect of its actions is considered an extension of its traditionally prized usage as a Qi tonic. It is also traditionally used in TCM to help the body cope with and adapt to stress.  

How to take it

In TCM, astragalus is often taken alongside other herbs, such as reishi mushroom which is traditionally used in TCM to improve immunity, relieve tiredness and reduce feelings of being run down. Other herbs that astragalus is often taken with in TCM include Chinese licorice, codonopsis, white atractylodes and fang feng. TCM theory teaches that, while astragalus is traditionally considered beneficial for improving immunity and helping decrease your likelihood of experiencing recurrent common colds, it is not the best herb to use during theactive stages of an infection. So, if you do catch an infection like a cold, stop taking astragalus for a while, and start again when the cold has passed. (In the meantime, herbs like honeysuckle and forsythia are traditionally used to relieve common cold symptoms in TCM.) In TCM, astragalus root is traditionally used in a similar way for children as it is for adults: to improve their immune defences, reduce the frequency of common colds and boost vitality. When given to kids, astragalus is often combined with other herbs, such as fang feng and white atractylodes

 Erika Bass is Technical Support team leader at Fusion® Health. She has over a decade of experience in the natural health industry, and a particular passion for helping women look and feel their best. 

Your body’s protective shield

The outer surfaces of the body (the skin, nasal passages and mucous membranes) are our first line of immune defence, acting as barriers that help to prevent mild illnesses taking hold. A similar concept exists in TCM, where it’s traditionally understood that a specific form of Qi called defensive Qi (or Wei Qi) circulates near the exterior surface of the body. Defensive Qi’s role is to act as a kind of security force, reducing the likelihood that factors like cold and wind can penetrate the body’s exterior surfaces and cause illnesses like common colds. Astragalus is traditionally used to stabilise the exterior surface of the body, support defensive Qi and reduce the frequency of common colds. 

 

 

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