Flowers of Astragalus, Milk Vetch, Huang Qi - Astragalus Membranaceus (Fabaceae)

Medicinal Use of Astragalus, Milk Vetch, Huang Qi – Astragalus Membranaceus (Fabaceae)

Despite the fact that astragalus is one of the most popular tonic herbs in China, it is not that well known in the West. In China, the root, known as huang qi, has been used for thousands of years. It has a sweet taste and is a warming tonic particularly suited to young, active people, increasing stamina and endurance, and improving resistance to the cold. It is often combined with other herbs as a blood tonic.

Habitat & Cultivation

Astragalus is native to Mongolia and northern and eastern China. It is grown from seed in spring or autumn and thrives in sandy, well-drained soil, with plenty of sun. The roots of 4-year-old plants are harvested in autumn.

Key Constituents

  • Triterpene saponins (astragolosides)
  • Isoflavonoids (formonentin)
  • Polysaccharides
  • Phytosterols

Key Actions

  • Adaptogenic
  • Immune stimulant
  • Diuretic
  • Vasodilator
  • Antiviral


Chinese investigations: Investigations in China indicate that astragalus is diuretic and that it lowers blood pressure and increases endurance. A 2012 clinical trial found that 5 g a day of astragalus root helped to stabilize kidney function in patients with chronic kidney disease, delaying the need for dialysis.

Western research: Recent American research has focused on the ability of astragalus to restore normal immune function in cancer patients. Clinical evidence suggests that, as with a number of other herbs, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy recover faster and live longer if given astragalus concurrently.

Traditional & Current Uses

Tonic & endurance remedy: Astragalus is a classic energy tonic, perhaps even superior to ginseng (Panax ginseng) for young people. In China, it is believed to warm and tone the wei qi (a protective energy that circulates just beneath the skin), helping the body to adapt to external influences, especially tothe cold. Astragalus raises immune resistance and manifestly improves physical endurance.

Control of fluids: Though a vasodilator (encouraging blood to flow to the surface), astragalus is used for excessive sweating, including night sweats. It is also helpful in both relieving fluid retention and reducing thirstiness. It supports normal kidney function and is thought to protect the kidneys from damage.

Immune stimulant: Not an herb for acute illness, astragalus is nonetheless a very useful medicine for viral infections such as the common cold.

Other uses: Astragalus is used to treat prolapsed organs, especially the uterus, and it is beneficial for uterine bleeding. Astragalus is often used in combination with dong quai (Angelica sinensis) in order to act as a blood tonic for treating anemia.