With golden roots and thousands of years of use as a therapeutic herb, astragalus is one plant ally that’s worth getting to know. It’s Chinese name, huáng qí, means “yellow leader” because the yellow root is considered one of the most important herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
So what makes it so special? For starters, it’s considered safe for people of all ages (more on that later) and offers profound benefits for the immune system, energy levels and more.
We’ll dive into its many benefits soon, but first here are a couple things you need to know:
- Although there are over 2,000 species of astragalus, only two are really used in supplements — Astragalus membranaceus (synonym Astragalus propinquus) and Astragalus mongholicus. These are the ones you want to look for when considering a supplement, tea, tincture, etc.
- Astragalus plants create beautiful flowers, but only the roots are considered therapeutic.
As always, none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. Please talk with your healthcare provider about any herbs you are considering. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in.
Bioactive Compounds in Astragalus Root
This sweet, warming herb contains a wide range of active constituents that work synergistically together, including:
- Immune supporting and antioxidant-rich polysaccharides such as astragalans I, II, and III. Hot water draws out more polysaccharides than alcohol, so astragalus is often consumed in tea or soup rather than as a tincture. However, other compounds are better extracted by alcohol, so there are benefits to the tincture form, too. (If you’re curious about why, you can learn about the differences between teas, decoctions, tinctures and more here.)
- More than 40 saponins, including the potent antioxidants known as astragalosides (there are seven of them – I, II, II, IV, V, VI, and VII). These antioxidants are thought to support the integrity of the respiratory tract. One study also found that astragaloside IV may play a role in supporting wound healing. (1)
- Flavonoids, which are thought to support heart health, longevity, and more.
- Terpenes, which are antioxidants that help protect against cellular damage.
It’s also rich in potassium and magnesium, which is often called “The Magic Mineral,” plus vital trace minerals like copper and manganese.
4 Health Benefits of Astragalus Root
Together, the compounds listed above give astragalus its beneficial properties. Let’s take a look at some of the most well-researched.
1. Immune Support
“Astragalus appears to strengthen both nonspecific and specific immunity.” – Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman, FNIMH, AHG
One of the wonderful things about astragalus is that it’s classified as an immune modulator, meaning that it helps to encourage balance in both underactive (immune compromised) and overactive (autoimmune disease) systems. (2)
“It is extremely safe and well tolerated, and it is particularly useful for supporting the immune system,” writes Donald R. Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG). (3)
He also writes:
“I classify astragalus as a secondary adaptogen, not a primary adaptogen, because it does not have a direct or profound effect on the neuroendocrine system. However, for persons under immunological stress (from chemotherapy, surgery, traveling, lack of sleep, or debilitation due to an acute infection) I consider it a primary adaptogen.” (3)
Studies suggest that it supports our reticuloendothelial system, which is a diffuse system of cells that destroys pathogens via eating them (phagocytosis). (2)
Like many herbs, modern research seems to confirm traditional use. For example, “In China, astragalus has enjoyed a long history of use in traditional medicine to strengthen Wei Qi, or ‘defensive energy,’ or in Western terms, the immune system.” (3)
Because of its immune supportive properties, astragalus is a favorite herb to include in tinctures and teas when extra support is needed.
2. Supports Energy Levels
Astragalus “is also regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels.” (3)This may be due to its positive impact on the mitochondria, which serve as the “batteries” that power our cells. (4)
As I shared in this post on rebooting our body’s stress response, when we get stuck in stress mode, our bodies “steal” a hormone called pregnenolone to make extra cortisol. Pregnenolone is often called the “mother hormone” because it’s used to make all kinds of hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and, of course, cortisol.
If too many of our resources are directed to making cortisol, it can impact levels of other hormones that are needed for energy. Low estrogen, testosterone and DHEA are all associated with decreased energy levels. (5) (6) (7)
Adaptogenic herbs like astragalus help the body maintain energy levels making it more adaptive to stress, which means it can devote more energy to making various hormones instead of loads of cortisol. Here’s a guide to getting started with adaptogens.
3. Optimizes Your Biological Age
In one study, researchers found that a compound within astragalus positively influences production of the telomerase (hTERT) enzyme. (8)(9) This enzyme maintains or lengthens telomeres, which is significant because telomeres directly impact cellular aging.
Telomeres are sometimes compared to the plastic ends on shoelaces that prevent them from fraying, only instead of protecting laces they protect our DNA. Here’s how an article in Scientific American explains it:
Telomeres consist of up to 3,300 repeats of the DNA sequence TTAGGG. They protect chromosome ends from being mistaken for broken pieces of DNA that would otherwise be fixed by cellular repair machinery. But every time our cells divide, the telomeres shrink. When they get short enough, our cells no longer divide and our body stops making those cells.
The faster the telomeres shrink, the more quickly we age at a cellular level. By helping to maintain telomere length, astragalus is thought to support optimal aging.
4. Seasonal Allergy Support
This small, double-blind, placebo controlled study found that taking astragalus for six weeks was helpful for seasonal allergies.
Other herbs and supplements may be beneficial, too – I’ve covered them in this article on natural remedies for seasonal allergies.
Possible Benefit: May Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
A 2016 meta-analysis suggests that astragalus may support healthy blood sugar metabolism for some people. (10) However, more studies are needed to confirm this effect.
How To Use Astragalus
Astragalus is often taken daily (or nearly so) during cold and flu season to support healthy immune function. It can be used alone or combined with complementary adaptogens such as licorice root, ginseng, shizandra berry and cordyceps, among others.
In terms of how much to take, herbalist Rosalee de la Foret writes that “Astragalus works best when taken in higher amounts for a long period of time. I recommend 15-30 grams of the dried root daily.” (11) In terms of tablespoons, that’s approximately 5-10 tablespoons.
You’ll find instructions for making astragalus tea and tincture below, as well as how to incorporate it into nourishing soups.
Astragalus Tea Recipe
Roots take a little coaxing to release their therapeutic properties, so astragalus is best prepared as a long-simmered tea (decoction). In Adaptogens: Herbs For Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, ethnobotanist David Winston and herbal expert Steven Maimes recommend 1-3 cups per day.
Astragalus Tea Recipe
- 2 tsp dried astragalus root (cut and sifted)
- 1½ – 2 cups water
- Place roots and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Once it's done simmering, remove the pot from heat and allow it to steep for 30 more minutes. Strain and serve.
How To Make Astragalus Tincture
Although water is better at extracting the valuable polysaccharides found in astragalus, alcohol is better at extracting terpenes and other valuable constituents. For that reason some people opt for both water and alcohol-based extracts.
Ethnobotanist David Winston and herbal expert Steven Maimes suggest 40-80 drops of a 1:5 tincture, three times per day. Here’s how to make a 1:5 tincture.
- 1 ounce dried astragalus root (by weight)
- 5 ounces of 60 proof or higher alcohol (by volume)
Place astragalus root and alcohol in a jar and cover. Place in a dark cabinet and allow the mixture to infuse for six to eight weeks, shaking occasionally.
Another option is to purchase pre-made astragalus root tincture and follow the instructions on the label after talking with your healthcare provider.
Adding Astragalus To Soup
Traditionally, sliced astragalus root is often simmered in soups for 15-30 minutes, then removed before serving. It’s fine to use cut and sifted astragalus, too, but more challenging to sift out.
Using Astragalus Root Powder In Smoothies
Ground astragalus root can be added to smoothies – 1-3 teaspoons is a good place to start.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to the most common questions I’ve received over the years. If you don’t see your question mentioned, please leave it in the comments below!
In Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism, Donald R. Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG) describes it as “extremely safe and well tolerated.” In fact, it has been used in combination with some therapies to reduce negative effects.
However, the Botanical Safety Handbook classifies astragalus as a Safety Class 1B herb, which means it may alter how medications affect the body. Interactions have not been proven, but they are biologically plausible. For example, due to its immune supporting properties, astragalus may counteract immune suppressing drugs. It may also increase the effect of blood pressure or blood sugar lowering medications.
This safety rating only applies to the two varieties that are cultivated for therapeutic purposes – Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus. Certain varieties, such as A. lentiginosis or A. mollissimus (locoweed), are toxic and should be avoided.
“Astragalus is also a great tonic herb for small children. It can be added to an adaptogenic formula for immune support as a preventative medicine when children are in school or when the weather changes.” (3)
Though it is a Safety Class 1B adaptogen, no studies are available on the safety of using astragalus during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is generally considered safe and appropriate for “young, old, weak, strong, and even small children and infants (dosage would need to be adjusted accordingly).” (3)
Though renowned herbalist Susun Weed does not mention breastfeeding specifically, she does recommend it to postpartum mothers whose children were born by cesarean. (9)
Have a question about astragalus? Please leave a comment below!
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
1. Chen, X et. al. (2012) The healing and anti-scar effects of astragaloside IV on the wound repair in vitro and in vivo
2. Hoffman, David (2003) Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine
3. Yance, Donald (2013) Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism
5. Mauvais-Jarvis, Franck (2013) The Role of Estrogens in Control of Energy Balance and Glucose Homeostasis
6. Ernst, Holly (2018) What happens when a woman has low testosterone?
7. Harding Medical Institute. DHEA: An Important Hormone for Good Health
9. Ping, Liu et. al. (2017) Anti-Aging Implications of Astragalus Membranaceus (Huangqi): A Well-Known Chinese Tonic Tian, H et. al. (2016) The effect of Astragalus as an adjuvant treatment in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A (preliminary) meta-analysis
10. Tian, H et. al. (2016) The effect of Astragalus as an adjuvant treatment in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A (preliminary) meta-analysis
11. de la Foret, Rosalee (2020) Herbs for Immunity
12. Weed, Susun (2008) Childbearing & Mothering After A Cesarean