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Astragalus: Your Winter Immune Builder

By Tierney P. Salter

For the winter months ahead, Astragalus is an herb worth having in your natural medicine chest. It helps fortify and strengthen the entire body so you're more resistant to viruses and infections. It is an excellent herb for those who easily catch or have a hard time kicking infections and viruses, such as colds and flu. Astragalus is also a useful adjunct therapy for conditions such as cancer, Epstein Barr, Hepatitis C and the HIV viruses; glandular disorders which affect the liver, kidneys, spleen, and adrenal gland problems; vascular problems that include heart disease and vascular degeneration.

Known as "Huang-Qi" in China, Astragalus is the root of the Astragalus membranaceus, a type of milkvetch in the pea family. This famous Chinese root grows in the grasslands and on the mountainsides in Sichuan, the Chinese province renowned for its production of ginseng. Cut into thin slices that look like long tongue depressors, this creamy-white root has been a favorite of Chinese doctors for centuries as a Q1 tonic, or energy tonic, to strengthen the body's overall vitality, improve digestion and support the spleen. The taste of the root is sweet and leaves one with a warm feeling inside.

It was first mentioned in Shen Nong Ben Cao, the 2,000-year-old Chinese herbal book. According to the Chinese, Astragalus strengthens the body's 'chi' or 'Qi,' the body's vital energy. This energy-giving quality can be very helpful for chronic degenerative conditions and for those whose energy becomes depleted while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. The Journal of the American Cancer Society indicates Astragalus appears to strengthen the immune system in a number of patients undergoing conventional cancer therapies. It helped restore T-cell function in nine out of 10 cancer patients.

Today, Astragalus is known as an adaptogen, which means it helps one better adapt to stress and has a balancing effect on bodily functions, such as supporting digestive functions, helping to balance blood pressure and improving circulation. First, it enhances cell metabolism, which lengthens the lifespan of cells and increases its energy output. Secondly, it supports protein synthesis in the liver, which increases nutrient absorption and energy. Third, it boosts the immune system, making the body more resistant to infection and disease. Fourth and finally, it increases the health of the adrenal glands, which improves metabolic functions.
A summary of the medicinal qualities of Astragalus:

· Boosts immune system
· Improves circulation
· Prevents colds and flu
· Increases energy
· Alleviates acute conditions
· Cleanses liver and kidneys
· Useful for degenerative disorders
· Strengthens digestion

We all have specific areas in our bodies that are more susceptible to infection. This winter, encourage your body's resistance to unwanted conditions by making Astragalus your herb of choice.

Acute: 20-30 drops in water 5-7 times a day.
Maintenance: 20-30 drops in water 2-3 times a day. Can be taken on a regular basis to support the immune system.

Tierney P. Salter, a practicing clinical herbalist for 20 years, is owner of The Herbalist in Seattle. Visit The Herbalist Web site at http://www.theherbalist.com