Native to China, astragalus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.
In the United States, the herb gained popularity in the 1980s. There are actually over 2,000 species of astragalus; however, the two related species Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus are the ones primarily used for health purposes.
What It Is Used For
* Historically, astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese
medicine, usually in combination with other herbs, to support and
enhance the immune system. It is still widely used in China for chronic
hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer.
* It is also used to prevent and treat common colds and upper respiratory infections.
* Astragalus has also been used for heart disease.
How It Is Used
The root of the astragalus plant is typically used in soups, teas,
extracts, or capsules. Astragalus is generally used with other herbs,
such as ginseng, angelica, and licorice.
What the Science Says
* The evidence for using astragalus for any health condition is
limited. Results from small or preliminary studies suggest that
astragalus may benefit heart function and help the immune system fight
* A few studies have shown potential benefits for using
astragalus—in combination with another herb, glossy privet (Ligustrum
lucidum)—as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. In general, however,
these studies were not well designed.
* NCCAM-funded investigators are studying the effects of astragalus on the body, particularly on the immune system.
Side Effects and Cautions
* Astragalus is considered safe for most adults. Its possible side
effects are not well known because astragalus is generally used in
combination with other herbs.
* Astragalus may interact with medications that suppress the immune
system, such as the drug cyclophosphamide taken by cancer patients and
similar drugs taken by organ transplant recipients.
* People should avoid using astragalus species such as "locoweed"
that grow in the United States, as these other species may have
different effects and side effects.
* Tell your health care providers about any complementary and
alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do
to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.