In the chill of winter, we gravitate to warmth and light.
Originating in northeastern China, central Mongolia, and Manchuria, the root of the herbaceous perennial Astragalus membranaceus or 黃芪 (huangqi) is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. Mild in strength, with a sweet and slightly warm nature and an affinity for the spleen and lungs, astragalus is used as a general tonic to improve endurance, immune resistance, and energy, and to promote blood flow to the surface. Astragalus is useful for viral infections and increases the action of interferon alpha-1. It tonifies the spleen, the qi, and the blood. It is indicated for energy deficiency, fatigue, prolapse of rectum, womb, or other organs, profuse sweating due to external “empty” ailments, stubborn abscesses, facial swelling, and diabetes.
The use of astragalus root as a general tonic dates to the 28th century BCE and the mythical Chinese ruler Shennong, the legendary author of the first materia medica. Astragalus root has a long, cylindrical taproot, which is internally yellowish in color, but rootlets should be absent. The constituents of astragalus root include triterpenoid saponins, astragalosides I-VIII, astramembranins I and II, isoglavones including formononetin and kumatakenin, and polysaccharides known as astrogaloglucans. There is anecdotal but little clinical evidence that astragalus alone or in combination aids in the treatment of the common cold or impaired immunity. Clinical studies supported by data from over 1000 patients in China confirm the use of astragalus as an immunostimulant for use in colds and upper respiratory infections. It is also used prophylactically. In general, astragalus is well tolerated but should probably be avoided in autoimmune diseases.
WINTER TONIC SOUP
Traditionally, the roots of Astragalus membranaceus are added to soup before the cold season to prevent respiratory ailments. Astragalus is an adaptogen and increases qi. The recommendation is to eat astragalus soup daily for one to three months to build immunity for the winter.
Root herbs astragalus, ginseng, eleuthero
Six cups low-salt soup broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1-2 pounds chicken (optional - for added immunity)
2 cups of chopped greens (spinach, chard, kale)
4 sprigs of parsley
2-3 sprigs of sage
6 slices of ginger root
Step 1: Soak root herbs in large pot with soup broth while preparing Steps 2 and 3.
Step 2: Mince garlic, chop carrots and onion. Sauté in olive oil over low heat until onions are translucent.
Step 3: Add chicken to above and brown on both sides.
Step 4: Add sautéed carrots, onions, and garlic, as well as chopped greens, sprigs of parsley and sage, slices of ginger, and chicken to soup broth.
Step 5: Simmer soup 3-4 hours, then remove root herbs, ginger slices, and sprigs of parsley and sage.
Step 6: Season to taste with salt and pepper or soy sauce/hot oil/sesame oil.
Information in this blog is presented for educational purposes only. The use of herbal preparations is not recommended without seeking the advice of a healthcare provider. Substances in herbal preparations may interact with prescription drugs to eliminate therapeutic efficacy or induce toxicity. In theory, astragalus may enhance the activity of drugs for diabetes and hypertension. Avoid astragalus root if you already have cold, flu, or fever.
Kerilyn Sappington is the founder of Integrative Translations, which specializes in the Chinese to English translation of topics in conventional and complementary medicine.