Herbs & Plants

Astralagus membranaceus

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Botanical Name:Astragalus membranaceus
Family:Leguminosae (pea family)
Common Names:Tragacanth, Gum Dragon, Milk Vetch, Canada Milk Vetch, Membranous Milk Vetch, Slender Milk Vetch, Standing Milk Vetch, Astragali, Huang Qi (Chinese), Beg Kei, Bei Qi, Hwanggi.
Part Used : Root.
Other Names : Milk-vetch root, huang qi

Different Species:A. membranaceus ,A. gummifer ,A. gracilis ,A. adsurgens var. robustior

Habitat:Native to Mongolia and northern and eastern China.

Description:Astralagus is a low-growing, perennial shrub that reaches sixteen inches. It thrives in sandy, well-drained soil, with plenty of sun. It produces hairy stems and leaves divided into twelve to eighteen pairs of leaflets.A. gummifer is now found growing in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, northwest Iraq, and the border area between Iran and Iraq.
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There are now more than 2000 species worldwide, including some 400 in North America. A. australis is an endemic plant of the Olympic Mountains in the US state of Washington. However, the medicinal varieties are found only in central and western Asia, where it has been extensively tested, both chemically and pharmacologically.

The root readily pulls apart and shreds into a million smaller pieces rather like tissue paper. A yellow core in the center of the sweet-tasting black root is the medicinal substance. The roots are harvested in autumn from four-year-old plants in several Chinese provinces and shipped worldwide. The latex is extracted by making an incision in the trunk and branches of trees growing in the wild.

The plant is one of the oldest used medicinally, dating to about 200 BCE. It was known even then to balance the body systems and especially good for the lungs and spleen.
The yellow colour of the root contributes to the Chinese name, huang qi, meaning “yellow leader”. It has been used in China for thousands of years to strengthen qi (pronounced “chee”), the body’s life force and protective energy. In Western terminology, this means to strengthen the immune system.

Folk medicine in Europe and Arabia have used the herb for treating tumors of the eyes, liver, and throat.

Tragacanth is the latex that exudes from under the bark and is extracted by making an incision in the trunk and branches. When it dries, it forms flakes that swell in water to form a gelatinous mass used in various treatments, including that of constipation.

European botanists first wrote about its medicinal qualities in the 1700s.

Some of the poisonous species are referred to as Poison Milk Vetch or Loco Weed.

Some of the Native American names came about as a reference to its seeds which rattle in the pods when dried.

A tea of the root was used by the Dakota tribes as a febrifuge for children. The Lakotas pulverized the roots and chewed it for chest and back pains and to relieve coughing. Also, a vapour was inhaled to treat a child’s aching chest. The roots were chewed and applied to cuts before they were bandaged. When combined with the roots of wild licorice, it arrested the spitting of blood. Lakota women who had little or no breast milk, chewed the roots to promote milk production. The Cheyenne used one species for cases of poison ivy or dermatitis. They also ground the leaves and stems and sprinkled the powder on weepy, inflamed, skin conditions.

When the explorer John Bradbury visited the Arikara village along the Missouri River in 1809, he was shown two new species of Astralagus, that were unknown to him, by the local medicine man.

Medicinal Uses: This herb has a variety of benefits as a convalescent and rejuvenating tonic and is also useful in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Astragalus have been shown to intensify phagocytosis of reticulo-endothelial systems, stimulate pituitary-adrenal cortical activity and restore depleted red blood cell formation in bone marrow. Astragalus is also one of the herbs known to stimulate the bodies natural production of interferon. Astragalus is an ideal remedy for any one who might be immuno-compromized in any way. This can range from someone who easily catches colds to someone with cancer.

Astragalus help maintain normal functions of the liver. Astragalus strengthens immunity to disease. It has certain inhibiting effects on molecular pathological changes caused by viruses, increases growth of plasma cells, stimulates synthesis of antibodies, and builds up body defense.  It enhances body energy. It promotes metabolism of serum and liver proteins, stimulates growth of antibodies, increases white blood cells, and thus increases resistance to viruses. Studies in the West confirm that astragalus enhances immune function by increasing activity of several kinds of white blood cells and boosting production of antibodies and interferon, the body’s own antiviral agent. It is diuretic, detoxifying and reduces proteinuria and cures kidney disease. It inhibits gastric secretions, reduces gastric acid, and thus helps cure stomach ulcers. It is cardiotonic. It has even more remarkable effects on heart failure due to poisoning or exhaustion. It protects the liver and alleviates liver injury.

Key Components: asparagine ,calcyosin ,formononetin ,astragalosides ,kumatakenin ,sterols

Key medical  Actions:
*cardiovascular toner
*immune stimulant
*liver protector
*strengthens gastrointestinal tract

Medicinal Parts used: Root, gum-like exudate

*It contains numerous active compounds which bolster immunity.

*The polysaccharides seem to stimulate white blood cell production and spurs the activity of killer T cells, increasing the number of cells and the aggressiveness of their activity. Increased macrophage activity has been measured as lasting up to seventy-two hours.

*It also increases production of interferon, a natural protein that stimulates production of other proteins that help prevent and fight viral infections.

*It increases the number of stem cells in the marrow and lymph tissues, stimulates their maturation into active immune cells, increases spleen activity, increases the release of antibodies, and boosts the production of hormonal messenger molecules that signal for virus destruction.

*Studies at the University of Texas Medical Center found that astragalus was able to restore completely the function of cancer patients compromised immune cells.

*It protects the liver from a variety of liver toxins, including carbon tetrachloride and the anticancer compound stilbenemide.

*Gamma-aminobutyric acid extracts have been found to kill bacteria and lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels

*Chinese experiments indicated that the herb was able to protect against the absorption of toxic chemicals into the liver.

*Studies have shown that patients given the herb suffered less angina and had a greater improvement in the EKGs and other measurements than patients given such standard heart drugs as nifedipine.

Chinese researchers report that the herb improves funtion of the heart’s left ventricle after a heart attack, which they theorize may derive from the herb’s antioxidant effects. Other Chinese researchers found heart-protective effects in people with Coxsackie B virus which can cause viral myocarditis. Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella spp., and Proteus mirabilis.

Strengthens digestion, raises metabolism, strengthens the immune system, and promotes the healing of wounds and injuries.  It treats chronic weakness of the 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.

In China astragalus enjoyed a long history of use in traditional medicine to strengthen the Wei Ch’i or “defensive energy” or as we call it, the immune system. Regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels and stimulating the immune system, astragalus has also been employed effectively as a diuretic, a vasodilator and as a treatment for respiratory infections.

Antibacterial; used with the ginsengs; helpful for young adults for energy production and respiratory endurance; warming energy; helpful for hypoglycemia; used for “outer energy” as ginseng is used for “inner energy”; American Cancer Society publication reports it restored immune functions in 90% of the cancer patients studied; use to bolster the white blood cell count; strengthens the body’s resistance; use for debilitating conditions; helps to promote the effects of other herbs; helps to improve digestion. Astragalus is of the most popular herbs used in the Orient; the Chinese name for astragalus is Huang Ch’i. It is a tonic producing warm energy and specifically tonifying for the lungs, spleen, and triple warmer via meridians.

In studies performed at the Nation Cancer Institute and 5 other leading American Cancer Institutes over the past 10 years, it has been positively shown that astragalus strengthens a cancer patient’s immune system. Researchers believed on the basis of cell studies that astragalus augments those white blood cells that fight disease and removes some to those that make the body more vulnerable to it. There is clinical evidence that cancer patients given astragalus during chemotherapy and radiation, both of which reduce the body’s natural immunity while attacking the cancer, recover significantly faster and live longer. It is evident that astragalus does not directly attack cancers themselves, but instead strengthens the body’s immune system. In these same studies, both in the laboratory and with 572 patients, it also has been found that Astragalus promotes adrenal cortical function, which also is critically diminished in cancer patients.

Astragalus also ameliorates bone marrow pression and gastointestinal toxicity caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Astragalus is presently being looked upon as a possible treatment for people living with AIDS and for its potentials to prolong life.

Scientists have isolated a number of active ingredients contained in astragalus, including bioflavanoids, choline, and a polysaccharide called astragalan B. Animal studies have shown that astragalan B is effective at controlling bacterial infections, stimulating the immune system, and protecting the body against a number of toxins.

Astragalan B seems to work by binding to cholesterol on the outer membranes of viruses, destabilizing their defenses and allowing for the body’s immune system to attack the weakened invader. Astragalus also increases interferon production and enhances NK and T cell function, increasing resistance to viral conditions such as hepatitis, AIDS and cancer. Astragalus shows support for peripheral vascular diseases and peripheral circulation.

Traditional Uses
In China, it has long been used as a classic energy tonic and is considered to be superior to ginseng for young people. It is believed to warm and tone wei qi (a protective energy that circulates just beneath the skin), helping the body to adapt to external influences, especially to the cold. It raises immune resistance, improves physical endurance, and encourages the body systems to function correctly.
By encouraging blood flow to the surface, the herb is effective in controlling night sweats, relieving fluid retention, and reducing thirstiness.

It is used to treat prolapsed organs and is beneficial in uterine bleeding.

In Chinese medicine, the herb has been used alone, or in combination with other herbs, to treat liver fibrosis, acute viral myocarditis and other viral infections, heart failure, and small cell lung cancer, liver and kidney diseases, and amenorrhea.

Taken internally, it is commonly used to strengthen the immune system, especially in such immuno-compromised individuals as those with HIV or during chemotherapy.

Infusions are used to ward off or help treat colds and other infections, to improve heart function especially after a heart attack, to improve memory and learning, to temporarily increase urinary output, and to promote the healing of burns and skin sores.

A decoction of the root in combination with Chinese angelica is used to treat anemia but when combined with cinnamon, it is used to treat cold and numbness.

When the root is dry-fried alone or with honey added, it is used as a stimulating tonic and eaten with meals.

Asragalus boosts the spleen when symptoms indicate that it is not functioning as it should. These symptoms include chronic fatigue, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite.

The herb is also used to treat anorexia, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, malaria, kidney inflammations, painful urination, prolapsed uterus, uterine bleeding or weakness, edema, water retention, skin ulcers that will not heal, fever, lack of stamina, and generalized weakness.

Tinctures are often used for night sweats.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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