Astragalus (huang qi) is a perennial plant native to China, Mongolia, and Korea, and is one of Chinese medicine’s 50 fundamental herbs. It is considered a strong, qi strengthening remedy, and one of its compounds might even be used to treat HIV in the near future. Though it saw a boost in popularity with the publication of the Taiping Huimin Hejiju Fang in 1100 CE, practitioners of Chinese medicine have been using huang qi to combat stress and strengthen the immune system for thousands of years.
How is astragalus used in Chinese medicine?Practitioners use the dried root of the plant. Huang qi can be boiled to make medicinal tea, but it is more frequently ground with other herbs in traditional formulas like bu zhong yi qi tang and yu ping feng san. Huang qi is considered a tonic for both the digestive and immune systems: the herb’s sweet, warming properties treat the spleen and lung, while raising stomach and spleen qi. Huang qi is often administered to treat or prevent colds, upper respiratory infections, allergies, and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also used to increase the production of blood cells, particularly in individuals with chronic degenerative diseases or who are undergoing invasive cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy. Because of its antibacterial and antiviral qualities, huang qi acts as a liver protectant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and vasodilator. This means it is recommended for those with liver, heart, and blood vessel diseases. Huang qi is an enduringly popular herb because it is as effective for everyday complaints as it is for uncommon disease patterns that are difficult to alleviate. Practitioners use it for skin wounds and mild colds as well as for severe heart disease and liver damage.
What does the research say about astragalus?Because of its potential to ease serious, incurable illnesses, medical institutions in the U.S. and China are highly invested in studying the medicinal effects of astragalus. We now have considerable insight into the mechanisms of this versatile herb, and its use by Chinese medical practitioners is well supported. Major American medical schools, including the University of Maryland Medical Center and USC’s Keck School of Medicine, recommend astragalus as a complementary treatment for:
- Diabetes and related complications
- Seasonal allergies
- Chronic stress
- Liver disease
- High cholesterol
- Colds and flu
- Heart disease