Could an ancient Chinese secret hold the answer for people debilitated by a very modern disease?
That’s the promise of this herb that’s been used for millennia by practitioners of Chinese medicine and other traditional healing systems.
In fact, the Chinese view it as the most important of all tonic herbs. Often combined with other plant-based remedies, this humble root is said to strengthen the immune system, protect against the effects of stress, and treat various health conditions.
But recent scientific research suggests another benefit: Taken in supplement form, his herb may be a useful therapy for people with cancer.
An Ancient Chinese Secret…
The root of the membranous milk vetch – a perennial legume native to Northern China and Mongolia –astragalus has long held a place of esteem in traditional Asian medicine. Shen Nong, who is considered the founder of Chinese herbal medicine, discovered the herb more than 5,000 years ago.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine valued astragalus for its purported effects on the immune system, the stress response, weakness and fatigue. In traditional terms, these benefits are said to stem from the herb’s ability to balance qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital life energy.
Based on this reputation, astragalus (known as Huang Qi or “yellow leader” for its color) is considered one of traditional Chinese medicine’s most important tonic herbs. Its sweet flavor makes it a popular ingredient in nourishing soups meant to boost immunity in sick people.
But astragalus isn’t just revered in Asia.
The plant was also widely used by Native Americans. For example, the Lakota tribe used astragalus to stimulate breast milk in nursing mothers, while the Dakotas relied on it to ease chest pain, coughing, and fever. In Europe, astragalus was a valued herb in folk medicine for treating tumors in the eye, liver, and throat.
All told, there are more than 1,000 different species of astragalus worldwide – but some are downright deadly. North American settlers learned that the hard way, when they found that feeding the plant to livestock made the animals psychotic, an unpleasant discovery that earned astragalus the name “locoweed.”
But don’t worry. Astragalus supplements won’t make you crazy.
Fortunately, the non-poisonous type of astragalus used in medicine is Astragalus membranous. Although the herb hasn’t been widely studied here in the West, some research does suggest that it may have real health benefits.