Author: Lily Mazzarella
Astragalus is best known as a deep immune tonic, traditionally used to enhance the "periphery" so that wind (considered a pathogen in Chinese medicine) and other invasions are kept at bay. But astragalus offers so much more--and is a good reminder to me about how important it is to avoid reductionist thinking about herbs.
Clinical trials show astragalus to be protective of the kidneys and enhancing heart function (for this, I often combine it with Hawthorn, Milk thistle, Artichoke and Dan Shen). Consuming astragalus improves quality of life in people with lung and breast cancer, and HIV. Though we think of it as an immune stimulant/booster, an herb that encourages cellular immunity and antibody production in response to serious viruses like Hep C and HPV, it has also shown benefit in seasonal allergy sufferers, where the immune system is "overactive." Which just goes to show that herbs disrupt mechanistic thinking all the time!
I love to use astragalus in broth (its mild flavor lends itself beautifully to this!) because of its extraordinary benefits for gut health. Components of astragalus have been shown to help heal gastric and intestinal inflammation and injury, and to enhance the production of Secretory IgA. Secretory IgA is found in all secretions--tears, mucous, vaginal fluid, gastrointestinal fluids--and helps bind potential allergens and pathogens that our immune system might otherwise freak out about. In this way, sIgA keeps threats at the periphery (sound familiar?) without the costly involvement of the immune system. When sIgA is low, food sensitivities and gut infections abound. And guess what? The fast-track to low sIgA is STRESS, so this is a super common condition.
Making the Forest Floor Immune Broth
is such a pleasure cause I get to touch all these fabulous herbs and mushrooms (wearing gloves and a mask, of course lol). Astragalus is a backbone of this broth, which you add to your regular old bone or veggie broth and cook for hours. Know that astragalus is fully water soluble and its goodness is seeping in, waiting to heal your gut and lend a helping hand to the rest of your body, too.