The root of Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is called Huang Qi in China, which means “Yellow Leader.” Astragalus has this name because the best roots are yellow in color and it is a leader of tonic herbs. It has a sweet taste with a slightly warm and moist energy. The roots are usually harvested in the Fall from 4- to 5-year-old plants. Astragalus grows best in sandy soil.
The many benefits of Astragalus include its ability to strengthen the deep immune reservoir of the body, decrease fatigue, and improve digestion and appetite. It is also considered a diuretic, a cardio tonic, and has been shown to protect the liver and kidneys from the damaging effects of pharmaceuticals.
This herb is often used in Fu Zheng therapy, an immune strengthening herbal therapy created by the Chinese, to improve the effects of chemotherapy, and reduce the side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. Some horse friendly herbs in Fu Zheng therapy include Asian Ginseng, Eleuthero, and Reishi.
It is considered a mild adaptogen and an immune amphoteric, meaning it can calm down an overactive immune system in disorders like allergies or allergic asthma; As well as increase immune activity when suppressed in disorders like Chronic Lyme Disease or Cancer. It is often used in formulas to strengthen the lungs and the wei qi, the outer protective qi that surrounds the body, helping to prevent viral or bacterial infections.
This herb is considered a safe tonic herb. Think of Astragalus as a preventative, not a treatment for acute infections. It should be avoided if you or your horse have an acute bacterial or viral infection, as it can be stagnating. Consider using Astragalus for chronic infections that are not healing, for boosting the immune system and for strengthening the body overall.
When purchasing Astragalus, be aware that Astragalus membranaceus grows in China and is not to be confused with the toxic Woolly loco (Astragalus mollissimus) in the same plant family that grows in New Mexico and Texas.
Andrea Baldwin is a Clinical Herbalist with training in various herbal traditions, including Western, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic and Native American. As a lifelong horse advocate, she believes that herbs and other holistic modalities, when used thoughtfully, offer the gentlest and most powerful way to bring balance to your horse. www.equibotanical.com
Lee, J.J., Lee, J.J., A Phase II Study of an Herbal Decoction That Includes Astragali radix for Cancer-Associated Anorexia in Patients With Advanced Cancer, Integr Vancer Ther, 2010;9(10):24-31
Winston, David, Herbal Materia Medica-Huang Qi, DW-CHS, 2012, Washington, NJ