Astragalus membranaceus, also known as Chinese milkvetch or Huang qi, is a perennial used for medicinal purposes. The plant grows 3 to 4 feet high and has fernlike leaves. Small, yellow flowers bloom in the summer. Astragalus, a native to China, has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. The root, used as an immune system booster, contains antioxidants. With its mildly sweet flavor, the dried root makes an interesting additive to soups, stews or teas.
Harvest astragalus plants between 3 and 5 years of age. If you do not know the age of your plants, do not worry; you can use the root at any age. However, the belief is that larger, older roots have more potency.
Cut back the stems and leaves of the astragalus to the ground using pruners. This will make it easier to work around the plant. Chop up the stems and leaves and add them to a compost bin or pile, if you have one. Otherwise, just discard them.
Use a shovel to dig a shallow circle around the root of the astragalus. The plant has a taproot, a root that grows relatively straight down and deep into the soil. Remove the top layer of soil so that you can see the root. This will guide you as you dig the root the rest of the way out of the ground.
Dig deeper around the root, removing the soil from the hole. Grasp the top of the root and wiggle it to loosen it as you dig. Continue the process until the root pulls free.
Wash the astragalus root with warm water, removing all the dirt. Use a scrub brush to rid the main root of the small rootlets and clean any crevices.
Lay the root on a cutting board and slice it into about 1/4-inch pieces with a sharp knife. Astragalus root resembles a thin, yellowish carrot.
Spread the sliced root on a cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the oven at the lowest temperature to dry the root pieces. This can take several hours. A food dehydrator works well, if you have one available. You can also process the root by making a tincture.
Store the root pieces in an airtight container, such as a Mason jar. Before using, chop the root sections into smaller pieces or grind them into a powder.