Astragalus membranaceus; A. americanus
This lesser well-known medicinal (at least in the European materia medica) has been a staple for immune support and vitality nourishment in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. While the most commonly used species throughout Asia is the one that we often see cited in texts (A. membranaceus) it is thought that the North American version of the herb (A. americanus) can be used interchangeably with the A. membranaceus species.
Astragalus is popular for its use as both an adaptogen (a class of herbs that has historically been used to help support and promote restoration of the nervous system) as well as an immunomodulator (traditionally used to help promote balance in the immune system), making it an ideal herb for the autumn months of transition. As a root, this deeply supportive herb is also a seasonal one in North America, as the fall months are the time when roots (both for medicine and food) are harvested and stored for winter.
With a particular affinity for the lungs, to me, Astragalus is the quintessential fall medicinal. As soon as I feel the weather change I start adding this nourishing root to my broths and soups either in powdered or decocted form. It can be used dried or fresh, though you will most commonly find it in dried slices at herb shops and through online suppliers such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Though the traditional use and application of this plant (from the TCM perspective) is deep and nuanced, the general use of Astragalus (particularly during autumn) to help nourish and support the immune and respiratory systems is one that I feel confident embracing. To learn more about Astragalus from the TCM perspective, check out herbal supplier, Root's and Bone's musings on this complex and globally meaningful plant.
Please Note: Astragalus is potentially contraindicated in those with autoimmunity issues or on immunosuppressive drugs; please consult with both a qualified herbalist and a licensed healthcare provider before adding astragalus to your diet if this is you.
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Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2019.
Zheng, Yijun, et al. “A Review of the Pharmacological Action of Astragalus Polysaccharide.” Frontiers in Pharmacology, vol. 11, 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2020.00349.
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