Astragalus Part 1: A Western look at an Eastern Perspective

Every birth is a condensation and every death is a dispersion. Birth is not a gain, death is not a loss. When condensed, the energy becomes a living being and when dispersed it is the substratum of mutations.
— Chang Cai

Astragalus is another one of my favorite herbs.  It’s actually a legume.  I’ll stop playing favorites when I finish my top 5.  Maybe I can do a break down, astragalus is my favorite qi tonic.  It’s slowly receiving more recognition.  Many people use it in conjunction with other herbs to help treat the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

It originates in Northern China.  Its Chinese name, Huang qi, translates to “Yellow Superior.”  I could see that, it is yellow, and works on the spleen which is also yellow (kind of).  It has a slightly sweet, warming taste.

Astragalus is a well known lung tonic.  It helps clear out pus, and was traditionally used in a blend to treat tuberculosis.  The lungs rule wei qi, which is protective qi.  It’s like your personal forcefield.  It hovers around your body, protecting you from the 6 exogenous evils.  Right now for me, that means dry summer California heat.  Cucumber aloe juice anyone?

A side note:  I’ve come across several sources that say astragalus is great for treating upper respiratory and chest infections, however, I’m under the impression that when illness sets in, tonic herbs should not be taken.

It may not immediately seem obvious, but excessive sweating can be a sign of wei qi deficiency, and in turn, a lung deficiency.  Spontaneous and excessive sweating is a form of “leaking.”  Leaking happens when excessive energy or fluids are lost, that could otherwise be stored.  

Not only does astragalus help regulate the flow of qi, but also of water.  In fact, both are directed together.  You can’t have good water regulation without good qi.  Blood flow is also regulated by qi.  Let’s make this simple, anything that flows in your body is an indicator of how your Qi is moving.

Astragalus stimulates the middle burner (above belly button, below diaphragm).  That’s the spleen and stomach.  As a spleen tonic, it helps move qi upward.  When qi is not circulating optimally, things can fall out of place.  Your organs can sag.  Prolapse can manifest.  It also helps digestion through the same mechanism of moving qi up.  When your qi is moving upward, you’ll have better, more regular bowel movements.

Posture can also be an indicator of how well, or not, qi is flowing.  Try this: sit comfortably, and do a breathing exercise for 2 minutes.  Any exercise.  Watch how your posture changes.  

I’ve heard that some people attribute some of the calming effect of cigarettes to the rhythmic breathing usually used in smoking.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to induce good breathing techniques though, but it's an interesting thought.

This is my own understanding of the eastern understanding of some of the ways in which astragalus works.  I don’t know anything about eastern medicine, so anyone please feel free to correct me.  The next installment will be my western understanding of astragalus’ benefits.  Thank you for reading, and please comment below if I was unclear or miss-spoke(typed).