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Astragalus (Huang Qi) in TCM: The Best Herb For Immune Support?

Could you open a small brick-and-mortar supplement store with all the vitamins, minerals and other supplements in your pantry? There’s nothing wrong with taking vitamin D3/K2, zinc, selenium and other immune-supporting supplements during the cold-weather months. 

But what if you could just pick one herb and one supplement? One that would not only support your immune system but also have several potential other benefits, most notably, anti-aging support. Curious to give it a try?

Astragalus: The 2000-Year-Old Evolution of Huang Qi in TCM

It hasn’t been long since Astragalus root (Radix Astragali, Milk Vetch) has been considered one of the most popular immune-tonifying herbs in TCM. Primarily used in modern times as a Lung meridian tonic, astragalus may be helpful in increasing resistance against the 6 external evils that can challenge respiratory function. 

These uses of astragalus in TCM are quite a change from what this precious herb was used for two millennia ago. 

According to Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, the original description of astragalus in the Shennong Bencao Jing (Classic of the Materia Medica or Shen-nong’s Herbal Classics; circa 206 BCE – 220 ACE) would be hardly recognizable today:

“It mainly treats welling and flat abscesses and enduring festering sores by expelling pus and relieving pain, great wind lai disease [leprosy], the five kinds of hemorrhoids, and mouse fistulas. It supplements deficiency and is good for hundreds of diseases in children.”

Leprosy? Mouse fistulas? Thankfully, astragalus is one TCM herb that has evolved for more modern concerns. Dr. Dharmananda says that during the Jin-Yuan period, when the northern tribes had taken control of most of China roughly 700 years ago (1127-1368), an herbalist named Wang Haogu, recorded this about Huang Qi:
“It replenishes the defensive [Wei Qi; immune system) and, therefore, is a medicinal for the exterior. It boosts the Spleen and Stomach and, therefore, is a medicinal for the center. Since it is able to treat cold damage with the cubit pulse not arriving, it supplements the kidney origin and, hence, is a medicinal for the internal.”

In other words, Huang Qi has your back by supporting your body’s external surfaces (the skin and immune system), your interior organs, and the center of your digestive fire. 

Astragalus In TCM: A Qi Tonic For Physical Strength

Celebrated in the West relatively recently, astragalus has been popular in TCM for almost 1000 years, according to Dr. Dharmananda, who says that Huang Qi became well known after the publication of Taiping Huimin Hejiju Fang (Prescriptions of the Bureau of the Management and Administration of Pharmacy), the earliest book of patent medicine in China, which was released circa 1110 ACE, at the beginning of the aforementioned Jin-Yuan reform period.

Leprosy? Mouse fistulas? Thankfully, astragalus is one TCM herb that has evolved for more modern concerns.    

Dr. Dharmananda adds that roughly one in four of the most widely used tonic (tonic means to strengthen or fortify) herbal formulas in TCM contain astragalus, including Bu Zhong Yi Qi Pian—available as QiVive, an ActiveHerb Guang Ci Tang branded TCM formula.

Huang Qi fortifies the central Qi, providing vital energy of the body to the internal organs, thereby making physical activity easier to perform. 

Astragalus In TCM For Digestion Support

Your immune system can only be resilient against external threats if you have a strong digestive system. A weak digestive system fails to transform food into sufficient Qi and Blood. Spleen Qi deficiency causes poor digestion, which may, in turn, cause tiredness and lack of physical strength. With astragalus as the chief herb in the formula, QiVive can help resolve Spleen Qi deficiency. 

In general, with Huang Qi, you get two great benefits for the price of one: immune support and digestive tonic. Several research studies, such as a 2020 review published in Pharmacology, confirm the 1000-year-old knowledge that astragalus supports the immune system.

Astragalus: Over 200 Compounds And Counting

If you really want to geek out on the scientific research behind astragalus, read a 2017 research paper published in Aging and Disease by three researchers from the Cerebrovascular Diseases Research Institute, and the Department of Neurology at the Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University in Beijing. The study shows that more than 200 compounds have been isolated and identified from Astragalus membranaceus, including polysaccharides, saponins, and flavonoids. One active compound that’s thought to be largely responsible for Huang Qi’s anti-aging effects is Triterpenoid Saponins, otherwise known as Astragalosides. 

The review in Aging & Disease references a 2007 study, which demonstrated that astragaloside and astragalus saponin delayed the senility in aging rats “through the antioxidant and immunoregulatory effects.” More research will confirm this effect on humans. 

The Best TCM Formula For Immune Support

As mentioned, if you had to pick one TCM herb to support the immune system, physical energy, digestion, and anti-aging, Huang Qi would have to be at the top of the list. Well, if there’s one TCM formula that could also give you these benefits, JadeDefender (Yu Ping Feng Pian) would be it. 

Featuring Astragalus as the chief herb, JadeDefender includes just two other helper herbs that further tonify Spleen Qi and strengthen Wei (defensive) Qi. But don’t let the fact that JadeDefender contains only three herbs fool you. It’s one of the most time-tested immune-support herbs in TCM. 

The easiest way to consume astragalus is to make instant hot astragalus tea. Simply add one scoop (scooper provided in this bottle of extract granules) into hot water and stir!

Do you use astragalus in your dietary supplement arsenal? What do you think of it? Leave a comment below.

Learn more about Astragalus (Huang Qi) in these ActiveHerb Resources:

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