Milk vetch (Astragalus membranaceus) is a plant found in the legume family. It develops yellow, pea-like flowers in summer followed by 6-inch seed-pods. Milk vetch is native to the dry sandy regions of eastern Asia. Chinese herbal practitioners have used astragalus root to treat the body for centuries. This herb has only recently received attention in the United States.
Energy and Vitality
In China, they call milk vetch "huang qi." They feel that it boosts the bodies "qi" (chi), or energy center. Along with ginseng, it is an important energy tonic. It works by stimulating the liver, spleen, lungs, circulatory system and urinary tract. It is supposed to balance the body systems, helping them function properly.
In the United States and abroad, astragalus root is recognized as an immune stimulator. It has been found to increase the production of stem cells and white blood cells in the bone marrow. Research is being done to gauge milk vetch's usefulness for patients with HIV. These patients usually die from opportunistic infections, and astragalus root may boost important mechanisms that will help them to ward off some of these infections. Astragalus root contains selenium, which is a known antioxidant. This can help the body prevent cancer cells from taking root in the body. It may also reduce the negative effects caused by cancer treatments. When patients receive chemotherapy their immune system is suppressed in order to destroy cancer cells. All the cells are attacked and the patient is left with very suppressed immune function. Astralagus root can boost the immune cells, reducing the risk of a secondary infection. Astragalus root will not cure cancer or HIV, but it can help manage these diseases. It is not a good choice for those suffering from autoimmune diseases because they are already experiencing heightened immune function.
Astragalus seems to have an affect on inflammation in the body. Components called saponins can be found in astragalus root. They seem to reduce renal inflammation. This results in lower blood pressure, which protects the kidneys from further damage. It is also a mild diuretic, which helps to balance the body's fluids. It is often used along with dong quai (Angelica) root when treating renal function. Most herbs are combined in order to better treat disease. These herbs may not cure kidney disease but will reduce the inflammatory factors, which can go a long way in producing a more positive outcome.
Astragalus root seems to affect metabolism in a number of ways. It boosts the metabolism, kicking vital body functions into gear. In China, they have treated diabetes with astragalus root for a long time. Research has not yet determined the full effect, but it appears to lower blood sugar levels. In this way it could be a valuable addition to other diabetes treatments. It is especially valuable for those with mild diabetes who may not need insulin. Astragalus root can increase the effects of other medications. It has not been determined whether it is safe to use while pregnant or nursing. Other than these precautions, there are no known side effects to using astragalus root.