If you read the last blog post on Autumn and the Metal element, you will recall how the lungs are very closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of the Wei-Qi – the defensive Qi that protects our bodies from external ‘attacks’.
For this month’s Herbal Spotlight, I wanted to feature a plant with a very long history as an immune system booster and disease fighter. Its roots are (literally!) in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which it has been used as an adaptogen for thousands of years – meaning it helps the body fight off stress and disease.
This month’s featured herb is Astragalus – a plant within the Leguminosae (beans or legumes) family.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the herb (also known as Huang-Qi) was hailed as a protector against stresses, both mental and physical. Astragalus provides health benefits to a number of body systems and ailments due to its ability to prevent and protect cells against cell death and other harmful elements, such as free radicals and oxidation.
Astragalus contains three components that allow the plant to have such a positive impact on human health:
saponins, flavonoids and polysaccharides.
Saponins are known for their ability to lower cholesterol and improve the immune system;
Flavanoids provide health benefits through cell signalling. They show antioxidative qualities and can help prevent heart disease; and
Polysaccharides are known to have antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities.
There are many other health benefits derived from Astragalus, including its ability to:
reduce blood pressure;
act as an antidiabetic;
relieve insulin resistance and treat diabetes naturally;
treat kidney illness;
reduce the severity of allergic reactions by preventing the release of histamines;
help deliver uninterrupted, restful sleep;
improve airway inflammation and treat asthma.
Astragalus has traditionally been used both as a supplement/natural remedy and in cooking. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said to tonify the Spleen and Lungs and hence is used for fatigue linked to decreased appetite. It is also said to raise the Qi, making it a potent herbs for prolapse and weakness anywhere in the body.
It is a tough but sweet, starchy root, and can be added to soups or made in to a decoction by boiling the root in water.
Astragalus powder is also very versatile in all the ways you can use it.
Here is a very easy recipe for an excellent substitute for peanut butter (and it’s better for you too!).
• 1 cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
• 7 tablespoons of almond butter
• 3 tablespoons of Astragalus powder
• 3 tablespoons sesame oil (you can leave this out to lower the calories)
• Sweetener (maple syrup or agave nectar)
• Dash of cinnamon and/or a dash of nutmeg
Note there really are no exact measurements in this recipe!
Warm the tahini and the seed and/or nut butters in a double boiler. Do not use high heat.
Stir the Astragalus powder and cinnamon powder. Add the sesame oil and stir until you get a smooth consistency.
Refrigerate and enjoy! You can also thin it out with some lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to use as a salad dressing.
And here’s an easy to follow recipe for Astragalus root immune power balls (delicious!).
• 2 tablespoons astragalus root powder
• 1 tablespoon maca root powder
• 1 tablespoon ginkgo powder
• ½ tablespoon spirulina, blue-green algae, or chlorella powder
• 1 cup sesame butter (tahini) or peanut butter
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup crushed almonds
• Your choice of shredded coconut, cocoa or carob powder, raisins or goji berries, chocolate of carob chips, and granola for flavor.
Combine the powdered herbs and mix well.
Combine the sesame or peanut butter and honey, mixing to form a paste.
Add enough of the powdered herbs to thicken, and add the almonds and the other optional stuff to your liking. Thicken to consistency with carob or cocoa powder. Roll into teaspoon size balls.
Store in the refrigerator or in a sealed glass jar. You can eat up to two per day but eat them within a week.
Disclaimer: If you are pregnant or nursing or have any medical condition, you should consult a doctor before taking astragalus or any supplement or herb. If you are taking any kind of medication or if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you should also check with your doctor to rule out drug interaction before taking any form of astragalus.