By Janelle Eklund
I enjoy each day greeting Astragalus americanus on my walk. They grow in graceful bunches about 18" high. It is fun to examine them getting up close and personal.
Opposite leaves attached to slender stems form a stair step pattern up a thick sturdy trunk. Back lighted leaves reveal lots of veins trailing off from the main center artery. The hand lens magnifies little hairs on the backs of the leaves scattered like the little hairs on your arm. Toward the top, long bare stems shoot upright from the base of leaf branches. At the top clusters of creamy green tinged flowers languidly wave in the breeze. Under close examination, each floweret arcs from stem opening into two tiny eared petals above an open jaw petal encased by two side petals whose ends look like little eyes when fully developed.
Using the senses to explore further, my hand tells me its leaves feel soft, my nose inhales its rich green aroma. As I bring my nose to touch the flowers they impart a slight hint of green sweetness. My ears listen to its quiet movement in response to winds breath. My taste buds welcome an intermingling of slight bitter sweetness from its leaves.
Astragalus americanus is important in the medicinal plant kingdom. It is almost identical to Astragalus membranaceus which is a very important herb in Chinese medicine (Moore 1993). Astragalus membranaceus (Huang Qi) is a key ingredient in Fu Zheng therapy (herbal treatment used to enhance the immune system during chemo and radiation therapy). In Chinese medicine it is used for lowered immunity, poor digestion, prolapsed organs, fatigue, recovery from loss of blood, chronic sores and wounds. It invigorates chi, strengthens the body’s superficial resistance, promotes diuresis, drains pus and reduces swelling. (Foster and Chongxi 1992, Tierra 2003, Winston 2003, Yance 2004).
The roots and stems can be made into cold infusions (2-3 fluid ounces, up to 3 times per day) and fresh root tincture (1:2, 30 to 60 drops, up to four times a day) as a antimicrobial, and tonic for hyperglycemia and hypertension. (Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West)
My herbalist friend likes to make a chai tea using it along with other herbs such as codonopsis, ashwaganda, American ginseng, burdock root, yellow dock, licorice root, orange peel, sarsaparilla, sassafras, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper. It sounds wonderful.
Discover and explore this plant on your next walk with nature.
From my light to yours-
References: Foster, Steven and Yue Chongxi. 1992. Herbal Emissaries, Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 356 pp.; Tierra, Lesley. 2003. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley: Crossing Press. 458 pp; Winston, David. 2003. Herbal Therapeutics. Specific Indications for Herbs and Herbal Formulas. Broadyway, NJ: Herbal Therapeutics Research Library. 100 pp.; Yance, Donald. 2004. Herbs, Phytonutrients, and Nutritional Agents for Integrative Oncology. Lecture Notes. Atlanta, GA.; Moore, Michael. 2003. Herbal Materia Medica 5.0. http://wwwswsbm.com.manualsMM/MatMed5.txt; Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.