It’s that time of year; the weather is changing, everyone we come in contact with is sniffling and hacking and we are indoors more where the air is stagnant and germs fester. It is also the time of year to simmer big pots of soup, stew, and other hearty fare. This is the time of year my family sits down at the table with a bowl in the center and I tell them what roots and herbs to look for and discard into that bowl. Bay leaves are a common such herb. I have friends that only include one bay leaf in their spaghetti sauce and the unfortunate finder does the dishes that night. We have a system in place to prevent that; I cook, we all load the dishwasher, my hubby washes the pots and my daughter much to her chagrin empties the dishwasher and sink of the clean dishes so I can add lots of good things to my cooking. Bay leaf, reishi mushrooms and my favorite astragalus root go in everything that simmers for any length of time. Garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric make very frequent appearances.
I learned about astragalus when I was first learning about herbs and was enchanted. I use them as an immune tonic in cooking. They are slightly sweet tasting but you will not detect a flavor when cooked with other foods. They are a slightly warming herb. They help prevent colds, influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and other such viruses. They are my alternative to a flu shot. I will not say not to get a flu shot if you have made a conscious choice and feel comfortable with it. I have chosen not to for myself and my family.
Astragalus membranaceua is part of the pea family. The root is harvested in autumn from four year old plants. It is sliced and dried. It is often referred to as a tongue depressor from the shape after slicing. You can also find it sliced in small rounds but this is really hard to detect until you have it in your mouth. It’s a root so it is fiberous and difficult to chew. Many use it to stir their tea, keeping the root in the tea and using it repeatedly. These methods work great as an immune tonic. For other medicinal purposes a tincture of the root or a decoction should be made.
The Chinese refer to astragalus as Huang Qi meaning Yellow Leader. The healthy roots are yellow in color and it is a leader in tonic herbs. It is thought of as a spleen tonic, and can be used for lack of appetite, organ prolapse, fatigue, and wasting and thirsting syndrome. Astragalus strengthens the lung qi and, because the lungs help create wei qi; it is able to strengthen this qi. Wei qi is the protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external pernicious influences. When the wei qi is deficient, people can get sick more easily, sweat too much or not enough, and develop sores that won’t come to a head. In addition, by strengthening the wei qi, this herb reduces excessive sweating, menopausal sweating, and night sweats and promotes suppuration of boils and carbuncles.
American research has focused on the ability of astragalus to restore normal immune function in cancer patients. Clinical evidence suggests that patients under going chemotherapy or radiotherapy recover faster and live longer if given astragalus concurrently.
 Winson, David and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.
Healing Arts Press, 2007. pg. 147-149 Rochester, VT
 Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Reference to 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments.
A Dorling Kindersley Book, 1996. pg. 68