Chinese Name : 黃耆
Latin Name : Radix Astragali
This herb is the dried root of Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. or A. membranaceus (Fisch) Bge.var mongholicus (Bge.) Hsiao of the family Leguminosae. It is grown primaliry in the Gansu, Heilongjiang,and Shanxi provinces,and Inner Mongolia of China. The four- to five-year-old root of the plant is dug up in spring or autumn, cleaned, sliced, dried in the sun, and used unprocessed or stir baked with honey.
Astragalus is part of the superior class of herbs and, similar to ginseng and licorice root, has been widely prescribed. It is highly regarded as a tonic, pectoral, and diuretic medicine. Traditionally, the herb was used for every sort of wasting or exhausting disease. Today, the root is used to invigorate vital energy, Qi, especially for deficiency of Lung-Qi and Spleen-Qi. It helps dispel pus and accelerate the healing of wounds. Astragalus root is a powerful tonic,immunity booster, and anti-aging medicinal herb.
Use of Astragalus Root in TCM
Sweet in taste and warm, it acts on the spleen and lung meridians.
Effects, Medicinal Uses, and Combination
- Invigorates the vital energy, Qi, and replenish physical power :
- For general debility, weakness and lassitude,spontaneous perspiration,night sweating, and prolapsed of the ulerus or anus,astragalus is used with ginseng, as in Shen Qi Gao (R-7).
- For metrorrhargia, metrotaxis, and other conditions due to deficiency of Qi and blood,and weakness of the spleen and the heart, astragalus root is dispensed with Chinese angelica root, ginseng, poria, white atractylodes root,and longan aril,as in Gui Pi Tang (R-6).
- For Spleen-Qi deficiency, poor appetite, loose stools, or chronic diarrhea, astragalus root is combined with white atractylodes rhizome (bai zhu).
- For general debility, lassitude, sinking or weakened Middle-Jiao, characterized by visceroptosis, hysteroptosis, and proctoptosis after a long period of diarrhea, atragalus root is prescribed with ginseng,white atractylodes rhizome, cimicifugae rhizome (sheng ma), and bupleurum root (chai hu), as in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (R-9).
- Strengthens the immune system : for respiratory ailments, profuse sweating, night sweats, susceptibility to the common cold due to general weakness and deficiency of Lung-Qi, astragalus root is blended with white atractylodes rhizome and siler (ledebouriella) root, as in Yu Ping Feng San (R-10).
- Strengthens Qi and warms up Middle-Jiao : to treat digestive tract ulcers, stomach distention, duodenal ulcers, fullness, and pain, astragalus is mixed with white peony, cinnamon twig, dry ginger, licorice root, and jujube, as in Huang Qi Jian Zhang Tang.
- Treats metabolism disorders and diabetes : astragalus is used with dried rehmannia root, ophiopogon root (mai dong), trichosanthes root (tien hua fen), Chinese yam, black plum, and pueraria root (ge gen), as in Yu Quan Wan (R-12).
- Invigorates the circulation of Qi and blood :
- To treat numbness of extremities caused by a deficiency of Qi and poor circulation, astragalus is prescribed with cinnamon twig,white peony root, ginger root, and jujube in a decoction known as Huang Qi Gui Zhi Wu Wu Tang.
- for recuperating from conditions of hemiplegia after apoplexy, astragalus is blended with Chinese angelica, safflower, and peach kernel in a decoction known as Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang (R-34).
- Includes dieresis and reduces edema : for facial edema, scanty urine, palpitations, shortness of breath,and chronic nephritis resulting from weakened Spleen-Qi,astragalus is dispensed with stephania and white atractylodes, as in Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang (R-66).
- Improves the healing of wounds : for treating slow healing of carbuncles long after ulceration, astragalus is prescribed with Chinese angelica root, ginseng, and cinnamon bark, as in Shi Quan Da Bu Wan (R-80).
- Treats hepatitis : for patients with chronic hepatitis, astragalus root is combined with Chinese angelica, atractylodes, poria, polygonum, cuspidatum (hu zhang), oldenlandia (hedyotis),and other herbs.
In a decoction of 10 to 15 g for general conditions or up to 30 to 60 g for severe symptoms.
For patients with excess (Shi) symptoms, yin deficiency, yang excess, stagnation of Qi or dampness, particulary when there is painful obstruction, astragalus should be avoided.
Side Effects and Toxicity
Astragalus is safe at the recommended therapeutic dose. A few clinical studies report toxicity from astragalus root. Very high doses may cause pain in the extremities, nausea, trembling, hot sensations in the limbs, and vomiting. No adverse reactions were observed in mice at oral doses as high as 75 to 100 g/kg.
Astragalus root contains numerous components, including :
- Flavonoids and isoflavonoids, which confer a yellow color (yellow coloration is traditionally regarded as an indicator of quality).
- Polysaccharides and astragalans I, II, and III were isolated from the root.
- Triterpene glycoside (astragaloside I to VII), acetylastragalosides, astragenol, amino acids, sucrose, choline, beta-sitosterole, and trace minerals.
- Many triterpenoid saponins have been identified. Astragaloside I too VIII polysaccharides have received considerable attention in the past fifteen years due to their potential therapeutic value in cancer and AIDS patients.
- Regulates and invigorates immunity :
- Laboratory animal studies of the whole root extract showed increased phagocytic activity, and increased superoxide production and acid phosphatase activity of peritoneal macrophage in mice.
- An oral dose of dried extract of astragalus root in humans increased antibodies of IgE and IgM levels.
- In mice, intraperitoneal administration of the polysaccharides of astragalus root lessened the atrophy of immune tissues, such as the spleen, thymus, and intestinal lymph nodes, as well as leucopenia caused by the immunosuppressant prednisone.
- Astragalus combined with codonopsis and ganoderma significantly increased immune activity.
- Antifatigue properties.
- Adaptogenic and a tonic :
- Astragalus root enhances cell growth, metabolism,and longevity in cultures.
- Increases memory in mice.
- Improves survival time in mice exposed to toxins and swimming stress tests.
- As a diuretic, astragalus root significantly increases renal function in rats with experimental nephritis.
- In the cardiovascular system, astragalus root has been used as a cardiotonic on isolated hearts and cardiac cells, and also has been used to treat heart failure patients.
- Antimicrobial and antiallergic.
- Mildly hypotensive, astragalus dilates blood vessels in cerebral, coronary heart, and intestinal areas.
- It provides protection of new liver cells in mice and prevents the loss of concentration of glycogen in the liver.
- The Chinese formula containing astragalus and other herbs, Shi Quan Da Bu Wan (R-80), showed immunomodulatory properties. It demonstrates potential therapeutic activity during chemotherapy and radiation, prolongs survival, and ameliorates the adverse toxicity of many anticancer drugs with less side effects.
- Astragalus root has a high content of Selenium (Se), which is an antiaging substance.
- Immunological function :
- In an open study on 1,000 subjects, a prophylactic effect against the common cold was demonstrated by an oral dose of astragalus. There was a decreased incidence and a shortened durationof any infection.
- Patients with small-cell lung cancer were treated with a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and herbal medicine therapy containing astragalus and ginseng. The herb mixture treatment raised the survival rates considerably, with some patients gaining three to seventeen years of survival.
Astragalus can be used clinically to treat shortness of breath, general debility, lack of appetite, flu and colds, ulcers, and peripheral vascular disease, and has been prescribed as a diuretic.
In studies performed at the National Cancer Institute and five other leading American cancer institutes in recent years, astragalus did not directly attack cancers. It does, however, strengthen cancer patients’ immune systems allowing them to recover significantly faster and live longer.
Astragalus augments white blood cells and removes some of those that make the body more vulnerable to it. Patients with low white blood cell counts responded to treatment with astragalus injection and white blood cell levels were maintained above 4,000 per ml in most cases.
Astragalus promotes adrenal cortical function, which also critically diminishes in cancer patients, and ameliorates bone marrow damage and gastrointestinal toxicity caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Currently, researchers are studying astragalus as a possible effective agent for treating AIDS and other viral conditions because it increases interferon production, and enhances natural killer (NK) and T-cell function.
- Other conditions :
- Cardiac output increased by 20 percent in patients with angina pectoris after administration of astragalus. There was no improvement of the left ventricular diastolic function.
- An injection of astragalus aided the healing of peptic ulcers, especially gastric ulcers.
- In a controlled double-blind study of 507 subjects, a formula of astragalus with Polygonum multiflorum and salvia miltiorrhiza showed antiaging effects after oral administration. Result showed improved vigor, strength, sleep, appetite, and cellular immunity, and less graying of hair.