Astragalus, also called milk vetch and goat's thorn, is a flowering plant in the pea family. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
In Chinese lore, astragalus is a chi force – chi is the vital life force of the body, so the remedy was believed to provide an energy boost which could help to combat numerous ailments.
Today, we know that astragalus is an adaptogen, which means that it helps the body to fight off physical stress, particularly in the form of disease. Cycloastragenol, a chemical found in astragalus, is currently being investigated for the role it might play in strengthening the immune system, particularly in HIV patients.
Saponins in astragalus are known to help lower cholesterol, and the plant is also rich in polysaccharides, which have anti-inflammatory effects. This may potentially help people with chronic pain and conditions such as fibromyalgia. The flavonoids in astragalus have antioxidant effects, helping to limit the cell damage caused by free radicals.
There is some early evidence to suggest that astragalus may also reduce blood pressure, and might have cardio-protective qualities.
Astragalus supplements are normally taken in capsule or tablet form.