Astragalus root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as a restorative tonic; it is considered a sweet, warming herb with effects on many organs, a wonderful plant native to Asia. The part of the plant used medicinally is the root. In recent years it has been marketed as a solution for a variety of conditions, particularly for its benefit to the immune system. The most common use of astragalus root in herbal medicine in the US is as an immunostimulant to counteract the immune suppression associated with cancer therapy. This use is based on limited observations made in laboratory research. Research reveals no animal or clinical data regarding the use of astragalus as an immunostimulant. The root is believed to be rich in antioxidants and have antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is sold in capsules, tea, soups, or extracts.
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 for cancer. It is also used as a folk or traditional remedy for colds and upper respiratory infections, and for heart disease.
Astragalus seems to be a decent food for diabetics. For a reason that is not entirely clear to patients who take astragalus exhibit better blood sugar control. The different polysaccharides protect against radical scavengers, and the benefits astragalus provides to cellular health seem to carry over in its ability to metabolize different nutrients.
Because of its widespread health benefits and benign nature, most people would benefit from having some astragalus in their diet. But people should be aware that some astragalus species, usually not found in dietary supplements used by humans, can be toxic. For example, several species that grow in the United States contain the neurotoxin swainsonine and have caused “locoweed” poisoning in animals. Other species contain potentially toxic levels of selenium.