"Ginseng is not for persons with high blood pressure, pregnant or lactating women. Astragalus has no known side effects when used as recommended."

Introduction and status

Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch) Bge. is a traditional Chinese medicine, known as "huang-qi" in Chinese or its trade name "Astragalus" in English. Traditionally it was used to treat fatigue and strengthen "Qi" or vital energy. In the modern context it has became an important phytomedicine in China and the subject of a very large number of published research papers. It has become increasingly important in the North American market in recent years.


The genus Astragulus belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae) and is one of the largest genera of plants with over 1700 species. Astragalus of commerce is non-toxic and should not be confused with native north American species such as locoweed, A. mollissimus, which produces a dangerous neurotoxin affecting cattle. Astragalus grows as a native plant in China from the far north east province south to Shandong. It prefers successional habitats and forest margins. It is now generally produced in cultivation for commercial purposes and dug after one year of growth. The root has been traditionally harvested in China at 4-5 years.


Astragalus is used as an adaptogen, immunostimmulant and tonic. It is indicated for treatment of infection, immune suppression, ischaemic heart disease and general disability. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and in both China and Russia as an adaptogen.


Traditionally, the dosage is powdered dried root or decoction in the range of 10-30g/day.


Astragalus contains several characteristic triterpenoid saponins known as Astragalosides which can be used for the identification and standardization of the plant (Li and Fitzloff, 2001). The principle compound, astragaloside IV is typically found at 0.15 mg/g. In addition it contains at least 6 isoflavonoids (total 0.02% w/w) including the estrogenic flavonoid fromononetin. Cell wall derived polysaccharides have been isolated from A. membranaceus var mongholicus and designated as astragalans I-III.

Pharmacology and clinical research

Astragalus is an immunostimulant and enhances the activity of NK cells, and increases phagocytotic activity. Both the polysaccharides and saponins may be involved in the enhanced immune function. Astragalus treatment restored immune function in a small study of cancer patients and significantly improved white blood cell counts in larger trials with patients with leukopoenia. In animal models, Astragalus decoctions improved learning performance in maze tests and endurance models. There has been considerable research on the application of Astragalus in treatment of viral diseases including hepatitis B, parainfluenza and coxackie B2 virus where Astragalus treatments have had a protective effect on the host cells. Clinical results in the viral area have had mixed outcomes. Astragalus provided significant relief from angina compared to controls in a trial with 92 patients suffering ischaemic heart disease.


A very promising herb that would benefit from further rigorous examination in N. America labs and clinics.


  • K. Bone and M. Morgan, 1999. Astragalus membranaceus, MediHerb #67, p.1-4
  • S. Foster, 1998. Astragalus, a superior herb Herbs for Health Sept/Oct. P. 40-41.
  • W. Li and J. Fitzloff, 2001. Determination of astragaloside IV in radix astragali. J. Chromatogr. Sci. 39:459-62.

J. Thor Arnason
U. of Ottawa
for Andy One

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