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Astragalus: not just for immunity

By Nadia McMorran

Astragalus racemosa is the botanical name for astragalus, a member of the fabaceae (legume) family of plants.

It is native to Mongolia, Korea and North Eastern China (where it is known as huang-qi) and the roots have been used medicinally for over 2000 years for a broad range of conditions, with a particular focus on immunity and stress.

In ancient Chinese medicine, it was renowned for strengthening the ‘Wei Chi’ of the body, also known as your natural defences. It is best described as a tonic, nourishing and supporting the body and increasing its powers of self-healing. In short, it strengthens the immune and nervous systems, helping us to fight disease (particularly chronic illness) and is a protector against both mental and physical stress.

Astragalus is known as a warming herb in traditional Chinese medicine, so for those that have a particularly cold constitution it can be beneficial to stimulate blood flow and introduce a gentle heat to the body. It also helps to balance blood sugar and prevent type II diabetes, reduce blood pressure and triglycerides in the blood and has a long history of use in the healing of wounds.

Because of its antiviral properties, astragalus has traditionally been used in the treatment of common colds and the flu, and works particularly well in the prevention of illness if used regularly while healthy.

Astragalus contains a number of active compounds, with the three key components being saponins, flavonoids and polysaccharides.

Saponins are known for their ability to lower cholesterol levels, modulate the immune system and prevent cancer. Flavonoids have antioxidant qualities, destroying free radicals and helping to prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer and immunodeficiency viruses. Polysaccharides are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and also improve the function of the brain.

Various studies have been conducted around the use of astragalus, with some showing that saponins, flavonoids and polysaccharides have been successful in decreasing or eliminating tumours. Early research also suggests that it may help patients to recover more quickly from chemotherapy and extend their life span.

Astragalus and echinacea are often paired together when it comes to boosting the immune system. Astragalus and withania work well together to strengthen the nervous system, improve the health of the blood and lower cortisol in the body.


Astragalus is an extremely safe herb, which can be used in high doses by most people young or old. It also can be used while pregnant or breastfeeding without adverse affects.

As astragalus is such a strong immune system tonic, it could theoretically reduce the effectiveness of immunosuppressive drugs, so should be used with caution – speak to your natural health professional, doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure.