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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Astragalus Root (Astragali Huangchi; Astragalus mongolicus;

           A. Membranaceus; A. Hoantchy; Leguminosae)

Other Names: Huang Qi (yellow Qi or yellow energy). English name: Milk Vetch   (1)

“Yellow Vetch”  (6)

Character/Energetics:  sweet, slightly warm  (6)     sweet flavor; mild, warm property  (21)     

Medicinal Properties:  Sweet, immuno-stimulant, diuretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, antitumor, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, Astragalus enters the lung and the spleen rejuvenating the digestive organs. It regulates blood sugar, helps circulate moisture, expels pus, stops sweating, and acts as an energy tonic.    (1)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:   spleen, lungs (6)  spleen & lung meridians  (21)

Parts used: the root  (6);  rhizome (15)

Identification & Harvesting: Astragalus is a perennial Northern Hemisphere legume.  It has 6-8 inches long fernlike fronds of leaves. Its root is a flat, light yellow, branched tap root about 8 inches in length. Astragalus also grows one inch long seed pods that resemble miniature soy beans. Its North American relative, locoweed, is familiar to ranchers because of its toxic effect  on cattle. After eating it, cows have been known to wander aimlessly, drooling and jumping over imaginary objects.    

Habitat: Astragalus is native to northern China and is grown in the provinces of Shanxi,

Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Gansu.   (1) 

Active constituents: 2’4′-dihydroxy-5,6-dimethoxyisoflavene, choline, betaine, kumatakenin, sucrose, glocoronic acid, B-sitosterol    (6)

Polysaccharides with immunostimulant activity.    (61)

Actions:   chi tonic, diuretic, anhydrotic (stops sweating)   (6)

immunostimulant, antimicrobial, cardiotonic, diuretic   (15)

supplements chi, increases yang, consolidates surface, controls diaphoresis, delivers water,           disperses swelling, discharges pus…antibacterial (see “Conditions and Uses”)    (21)

Numerous Asian studies confirm the immunostimulant, cardiotonic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic and diuretic effects.  Also improves stamina.  The immunostimulant activity derives from the polysaccharide content.  Other studies also indicate it restores T-cell function in a high percentage of cancer patients;  also water extracts were found to have an antimutagenic (carcino-preventative) effect.  Unfortunately seems to have no effect on HIV.    (61)

Conditions and Uses:    supports immunity, chi tonic (2)  

strengthens digestion, raises metabolism…,promotes healing of wounds and injuries. It treats chronic weakness of lungs with shortness of breath, collapse of energy, prolapse of internal organs, spontaneous sweating, chronic lesions and deficiency edema. It is very effective in cases of nephritis that do not respond to diuretics.   (6)

Astragalus is said to enhance “metal” in Chinese herbology.  It has been used to treat mucous membrane infections (especially in the urinary and respiratory tracts), diabetes with poor circulation, and hard to heal wounds. Combined with ginseng, it helps to protect from winter coldsand viruses.

It is sometimes used after roasting it with honey. This enhances its ability to tone energy

levels. As an adaptogen, it is thought to be better suited for children than ginseng. Used raw it is

helpful in treating abscesses.

Astragalus is an important ingredient in herbal teas and is often taken in soup. It is said that if a family eats such soup weekly, they can…make it through the winter without a single cold!

It is used often in cases of chronic debility It is also used in cases of arthritic pain and numbness, loss of appetite, weakness, abnormally small amounts of urine discharge, night sweats, muscle numbness, boils, diarrhea, asthma, nervousness, prolapsed organs, uterine bleeding, recovery from severe blood loss, edema, abscess, inflammation, and nephritis.

            The Astragalus root has been shown to have a positive effect on the viral heart disease called Coxsackie B. It was found to reduce cellular damage and electrical changes in the heart. Infected cells showed  more regular rhythms and beat frequency.

The milk vetch also boosts defense  mechanisms for those undergoing chemotherapy. It does this by  normalizing immune responses, lowering digestive toxicity and increasing bone marrow activity. Very large doses are required for this application.

Astragalus is also an important ingredient in several Chinese combinations. It is the main herb in the metal weakened formula Fu Lei which strengthens the lungs.  It is a key ingredient in the energy  weakened formula Sheng Mai which boosts the immune system.  It can also be found in small amounts in the formulas for weakened fire (Yang Xin), weakened earth (Wen Zhong), and weakened  water (Jian Gu). Astragalus is also found in many other formulas meant to aid the immune system.

Astragalus is not suggested in cases of heat, stroke or acute asthma. It also is not recommended for the early stages of flus when sweating is desired.   (1)

For weak immune system: increases production of white blood cells and strengthens the immune response; anti-bacterial; energy tonic; strengthens wei qi, or defense energy./ Take a decoction or tincture/For debilitated conditions add other energy tonics such as licorice, dang gui, and bai zhu.  

            ASTRAGALUS (Astragali Huangchi; Astragalus mongolicus;

                                  A. Membranaceus; A. Hoantchy; Leguminosae)

Conditions and Uses (cont.)

For incontinence: Replenishes vital energy and helps to regulate water metabolism/Take a decoction with other herbs, or 1–2 g doses powdered herb in capsules, or a tincture/Combine with dang gui, chuan xiong, and chi shao yao in decoctions.   (15)

Exterior deficiency, spontaneous diaphoresis, nocturnal diaphoresis, deficiency of chi, blood prostration, deficiency of the spleen, diarrhea, diseases caused by insufficient chi.

It has been proven effective against experimentally-induced nephritis, especially in treating proteuria….It also delayed the occurrence of proteuria and high-blood cholesterol disease.

…Cardiotonic effect: The herb increases contraction of normal hearts, its cardiotonic effect being even more dramatic in hearts exhausted by fatigue and poison. Vasodilation effect: It dilates blood vessels, improves blood circulation of the skin, and enhances nutrition. Antibacterial effect: In vitro the herb has antibacterial action upon Shigella dysenteriae, Streptococcus haemolyticus, Diplococcus pneumonia, and Staphylococcus aureus. Hypotensive effect: In animal studies, the herb has been proven to lower blood pressure, probably through its vasodilation action.   (21)

Used since 1975 in China in cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, to offset their effect on the immune system.    (61)

Combinations: Combined with ginseng, it helps to protect from winter colds and viruses.   (1)

For debilitated conditions, add other energy tonics such as licorice, dang gui, and bai zhu.  

For incontinence, combine with dang gui, chuan xiong, and chi shao yao in decoctions.   (15)

Precautions: Astragalus is not suggested in cases of heat, stroke or acute asthma. It also is not recommended for the early stages of flus when sweating is desired.   (1)

Avoid if condition involves excess “heat” or yin deficiency.  (15)

Applications: For weak immune system, take a decoction or tincture   

          For incontinence , take a decoction with other herbs, or 1–2 g doses powdered herb in capsules, or a tincture/Combine with dang gui, chuan xiong, and chi shao yao in decoctions.  (15)

Divination:  I The Magician 

          Astragalus is an herb of creativity. It is a digestive and a diuretic. The root is used                to increase energy and aid assimilation and digestion. It is also the most powerful  herb immune tonic known. (Mercury)

          Symbolically used for: Poor assimilation of food and ideas. Weakness, fatigue,               sluggishness. Tendency to be cold. 

          Divinatory Meanings: Creativity. Unlimited possibilities. Ability to do whatever  one imagines or decides.

          Reverse Meanings: A person who is too busy, too outwardly directed, selfish. (52)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix–Marc/menstruum ratio: 6.7 gr astragalus/1 oz  alcohol   (1a)

        60% alcohol   (11)   Break two Astragalus slats at a time into 1” pieces. Fill Vita Mix container 1/3–1/2 full. 90 seconds forward; 90 seconds reverse. 

        Note: check astragalus slats for degree of moistness. If necessary, remove slats from airtight plastic bags to dry in Bottles Room 2-4 weeks prior to tincturing.  (1a)

Dosage: 6-15 gms.   (6)

3-5 g. capsules daily.  15-30 drops tincture 2 x daily.    (61)

General Notes:

Huang-chi …was first recorded in Shen nung pen tsao as a superior herb. According to Pen tsao kang mu, chi means “leader”, huang means yellow. It is one of the most important tonic herbs and that  is why it was given this name. (21)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Astragalus” file (S.R.Johnson monograph, Nature’s Field, Jul/Aug 1995)

      Johnson’s Sources: 

      *  “Astragalus”, Nature’s Field (Jan/Feb 1990).

      *  “Astragalus and Viral Heart Disease” by Rob McCaleb, HerbalGram (Fall 1989).

      *   Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica by Dan Bensky and  Andrew Gamble with  Ted  Kaptchuk 

           (Seattle, Washington: Eastland Press, 1993).

     *  “An Herb Profile: Astragalus Americanus, Weed or Cure?” by Robyn Klein, The  American  Herb 

          Association  Quarterly Newsletter (Fall/Winter 1993-94).

     *   The Herbs of Life: Health and Healing Using Western and Chinese Techniques by Lesley Tierra, 

          L. Ac. (Freedom, California: The Crossing Press 1992).

     *   The Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica: Crude and Prepared by Kun-Ying Yen, Ph D  Taipei, Taiwan: 

          SMC  Publishing, 1992

     *   An Illustrated Dictionary of Chinese Medicinal Herbs by Wee Yeow Chin  and Hsuan Keng  

          (Sebastopol, California: CRCS  Publications, 1992).

     *   Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen (Warsaw, Indiana: Whitman Company, 1987)

(1a)  ibid Research Data, “Astragalus Tinctures” file

(2)   Cayuga Botanicals Product Line and Price List

(2a)  PDR for Herbal Medicines, 2nd Ed. (Medical Economics Co., 2000), pgs. 54-56

(6)   Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 294 

(11) Herbal Materia Medica (5th edition) by Michael Moore, pg. 7 

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 134-135, 172-173, 181

(21) Oriental Materia Medica  by Hong-yen Hsu, Ph.D. and associates, pgs. 521-523

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin)

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 24-25

A perennial with several stems 1.5 – 2 m. in height.  Stems are covered with pinnate leaves with T-shaped soft hairs.  Primary root is thick, long and contains many lateral roots.  A secondary root beginning 20-30 feet below the soil surface.  Both cold and heat tolerant.  Endemic to Olympic Mountains, Washington.  Other spp. are grown in northern and southern parts of China, Japan and Korea.  Flower racemes are apical, and most are axillary.  Inflorescences have many small, blue, purple or bluish purple flowers.  2-3 days foloowing bloom, pods will develop in a square shape of a cross section with two chambers.  There are 10 dark brown seeds in each chamber.  Seeds are 6-13 mm long.  Beg kei, bei qi, hwanggi, Membranous Milk Vetch, astragali, tragacanth.

Triterpene glycosides incl. brachyosides A, B and C, cyclocephaloside II, astrachrysoside A;  saponins incl. astragaloside I, II and IV, isastragaloside I, 3-0-beta-D-xylopyranosyl=cycloastragenol, cyclocanthoside E, soyasaponin I and cycloastragenol;  tragacanth (from the sap);  sterols incl. daucosterol and beta-sitosterol;  fatty acids incl. heptenoic acid, tetradecanoic acid, pentadecanoic acid, hexadecanoic acid, octadecenoic acid, octadecanoic adid, octadecadienoic acid, linolenic acid, eicosanoic acid, eicosenoid acid and docosanoic acid;  isoflavoinoid compounds incl. astrasieversianin XV (II), 7,2’==dihydroxy-3′,4′-dimethoxy-isoflavane-7-O-beta-D-glucoside (III);  amino acids incl. gamma-L-glutamyl-Se-methyl-seleno-L-cysteine, Se-methylseleno-L-cysteine;  polysaccharides.

Inhibits the replication of coxsackie B-3 virus (CB3V)-RNA, a virus that causes myocarditis in animal models.  Demonstrated significanlty high3er survival rates and lower abnormal action potential in animal models infected with CB3V, suggesting its possible use for prevention and treatment of acute myocarditis involving CB3V.  A. membranaceus inhibits lipid peroxidation  in rat heart mitochondria;  increases cardiac output in patients with angina pectoris.  Astragaloside IV improves left ventricular end-diastolic volume, left ventricular end-systolic volume and slows heart rate in heart failure.  Compound also alleviates chest distress and dyspnea associated with heart failure.  Herb has therapeutic effects on sodium and water retention in aortocaval fistula-induced heart failure, iimproving cardiac and renal functions in heart failure.  The mechanism is partly through correction of abnormal mRNA expressions of hypothalmic arfinine vasopresin system and aquaporin-2, and amelioration of blunted renal response to atrial natriuretic peptide.  Astragaloside IV increases fibrinolytic potenital of endothelial ells by upregulating the expression of tissue-type plasminogen activator and by downregulating the expression of plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1.  Herb strengthens the movement and muscle tonus in the intestine, especially the jejunum, to increase movements in the digestive tract, as evidenced by positive effects on the cycle duration of interdigestive myoelectric complex.  An ethanol extract of the root of A. membranaceus alleviated liver injury through a reduction of elevated SGPT levels and subacute toxicity.  Herb also decreased loss of righting reflex and protected hepatic cells from pathological changes.  Stimulates macrophages, promotes antibody formation, and increases T lymphocyte proliferation.  F3, an immuno-regulatory component of the herb, reverses macrophage suppression induced by urological tumors.  A. membranaceu extracts enhance the antibody response to a T-dependent antigen associated with an increase of Th cell activity in normal and immunodepressed animal models.  A fractionated extract of A. membranaceus potentiates lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cell cytotoxicity generated by low-dose recombinant interleukin-2 (riL-2).  This immune response occurs through a 10-fold potentiation of riL-2 activity manifested by tumor cell killing activity resulting from LAK cell generation.  Aqueous extracts of astragalus demonstrated improvement of anisodine-induced impairment on memory acquisition as well as the alcohol-elicited deficit of memory retrieval (a reduction in errors and prolonged latent period).  Clinical trials — In clinical trials concerning the effect of Astragalus in treating patients with leukopenia, the average white blood cell count was significantly increased.  The effect of A. membranaceus on left ventricular function and oxygen free radicals was evaluated in cardiac patients, who had experienced myocardial infarction within 36 hours.  The herb demonstrated a strengthening of left ventricular function and an effect of anti-oxygen free radicals for a cardiotonic action.  It decreased the ratio of pre-ejection period/left ventricular ejection time, increased the superoxide dismutase activity of red blood cells and reduced lipid peroxidation content.

Unproven uses:  has been used for respiratory infections, immune depression, cancer, heart failure, viral infections, liver disease and kidney disease.  Has been used as a diuretic.  Has been used alone and in combination in traditional Chinese medicine for liver fibrosis, acute viral myocarditis, heart failure, small cell lung cancer, amenorrhea, and as an antiviral.

Caution should be exercised with patients receiving immunosuppressive therapy, such as transplant patients, or patients with autoimmune diseases.  Extracts of A. lusitanicus in animal models resulted in toxic excitatory cardiac effects and respiratory depression, involving skeletal muscle and neurological systems.  Due to the selenium content in Astragalus, toxic doses may result in neurological dysfunction leading to paralysis.