Herb of the Season: Astragalus
Astragalus membranaceus


Astragalus is best known for its profound effect on our immune system where it restores and strengthens immune function at a cellular level. When you’re doing too much (which is usually the case around the Winter Solstice) or notice that your immune system is compromised consider this rejuvenating herb. In Chinese medicine, where astragalus has been strengthening immunity for centuries, it is also used as a tonic for the digestive system, nervous system, heart, liver and lungs. Several studies have shown that Astragalus has cardiotonic actions, protecting the heart against free-radical oxidative damage. What more could a plant offer?

 

I love the concept of including herbs in my food that also serve as preventative medicine. Every time you make soup or stew this winter, add a handful of sliced, dried astragalus root to the pot as it simmers. You can remove the pieces before serving, or leave them in but warn diners that they can chew, but not swallow, astragalus’ fibrous roots. Another simple way to get the added benefits of astragalus’ immune stimulating properties is to use its decoction instead of water in your recipes. Simmer a handful of astragalus root in three cups of water. Let them boil for a half hour or so until the roots get soft and limp. Then strain this slightly sweet, healthful decoction. (Keep the roots for another decocting… it’ll be a little weaker but still very nourishing.) Your invigorating immune tonic is now ready to be used as the liquid in your porridge, rice and grains, or to replace the water when reconstituting frozen juice, or as a beverage in your water bottle. Rosemary Gladstar refers to astragalus as a superior adaptogenic herb which tones and strengthens the entire system. Try it a couple times per week throughout the winter season to enhance your immune system and overall vitality.

 

Astragalus is a visual delight in my wild garden…vivid green leaves all summer long interspersed with weeks of yellow flowers or hanging pods. I love the way the small pods open up in late summer dispersing their seeds freely, offering themselves in abundance. It’s a member of the Leguminosae (pea) family with hardy, strong, elegant and drought resistant characteristics. I started my plants from seed three summers ago and I’ve encouraged them to wander freely in a sunny corner, especially since the medicinal part of the plant is the root. I haven’t harvested my own roots yet … I admit that I’m always reluctant harvesting roots. Luckily we can purchase the tongue-depressor shaped roots at Asian apothecaries or from health food stores. Look for yellow centers framed in off-white. Avoid roots sold in large bins because they often have tiny holes in them which are not a good sign! Locally I appreciate the high quality organic astragalus roots (pictured below) that I purchase from Clef des Champs, a herb company that grows, harvests and prepares herbal products in their stunning gardens in Val David.

 

Astragalus has been studied extensively proving to be beneficial as an adjunctive cancer treatment, increasing life-span significantly when it’s used as a complementary medicine with chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Those suffering from AIDS, fatigue or chronic hepatitis also benefit from Astragalus’ immune enhancing properties. Astragalus has strong antiviral properties. It is used to prevent and treat long-term infections including recurring colds and flus, candida, and Epstein-Barr syndrome. Try astragalus root, along with your Wise Woman ways, to help build your immune system when you are over fatigued or recovering from a prolonged illness.

 


I think the doctrine of signatures would agree that a key message from astragalus’ wide open, seed-filled pods is prosperity and abundance. Next spring, plant a few seeds in your wild garden and encourage astragalus to flourish so it can provide you with medicinal food, and beauty, in the future. Harvest astragalus after at least four or five years of growth, preferably after the first frost. Then slice the roots lengthwise and use them fresh or dried in tinctures, decoctions, syrup, cider vinegar and water based recipes. Powder dried astragalus and infuse it in honey to help fight fatigue and boost your vital energy.

We could all use an energy boost as we get into the holiday spirit, celebrate the winter solstice and the coming of the sun. Share the gift of astragalus during the holidays to symbolize the nourishment and sweetness that friends and family bring into your life. Add a weekly serving of astragalus to your diet in the New Year and experience superior health as you enjoy all that life has to offer in the lengthening winter days ahead.

 

Be WELL!

Monica

Over the years I have been blessed with many inspirational teachers. I thank them for sharing their wisdom through their lectures, workshops, websites and books. For more information about Astragalus and many other healing herbs, enjoy these insightful and informative resources.

Traversing the Wild Terrain of Menopause by Gail Faith Edwards

(Bertha Canterbury Press, 2003) Click for website

Herbs for Reducing Stress & Anxiety by Rosemary Gladstar

(Storey Books, 1999) Click for website

The Male Herbal by James Green

(Crossing Press, 2007)
Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way
by Susun S. Weed

(Ash Tree Publishing, 1996) Click for website

Encyclopedia of Herbs by Dr. Terry Willard

(Key Porter Books, 2008) Click for website

 
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