A native Minnesota variety of an astragalus relative.
Astragalus membranaceaus is a native to China and other areas of Asia and is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family. It tastes sweet, starchy, slightly warm and moist. According to Lesley Tierra, astragalus has adaptogenic, diuretic, antiviral, cardiotonic, antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties. Astragalus has gotten a lot of press as an adapotgen and for helping people with cancer and rightfully so as it “…helps prevent immuosuppression caused by chemotherapy and has tumor-inhibiting activity”(Winston, 149). It is a personal favorite of mine for preventing and/or treating regular-old colds and related infections.
The Chinese name of this herb is huang qi, huang meaning yellow (the color of the root) and qi meaning leader, as it is considered a “leader” among the tonics in the Chinese pharmacopeia because it can be used by a wider range of people than other tonics like ginseng. Astragalus strengthens spleen qi to aid weak digestion, nausea and vomiting, bloating, assimilation and lack of appetite. It also bolsters wei qi (protective energy or immunity) and lung qi. Not surprisingly, astragalus has been adapted into Western herbalism because of its use in strengthening the immune system and aiding in defense of colds, flus and infections of the respiratory system.
Astragalus is usually sold in root slices or pieces. It is mostly prepared as a tea although it also comes n powdered and tinctured forms. To make astragalus tea at home, bring 4 cups of water to boil, add about 4 tablespoons of the root and simmer covered for 20 mins. Let cool slightly before pouring a cup or two and straining. It is quite palatable, and people don’t usually have a problem drinking 3 cups of it in a day. A little honey or a simmering a cinnamon stick along with the astragalus extenuates both the sweetness and the moistening quality.
I like to drink astragalus tea daily in the winter, often for a month or longer, when everyone around me is getting sick or when I feel on the verge of a getting a cold. Just recently my husband came down with a horrible cold. I knew I’d be next, so I loaded up on astragalus tea so when I got the cold myself it wasn’t that bad – just a runny nose without a cough or constricted chest. It also combines well with other immune enhancing herbs like shiitake, eleuthero, ginger and echincacea, and is safe for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) was one of the reasons I discovered herbalism. As a 19 year old pre-med student, I searched the universities Pub Med database in search for the best proven medication for the awful cold I was having. The doctors were sure it was either strep throat and mono, but both tests came back negative. So I searched for some magic cough syrup, or antibiotic from heaven, but every study that came up said that over-the-counter cough syrups were actually ineffective. I noticed page after page of studies in German that had Holunderbeere (German for elderberry) in the title. I refined my search and found out that Elderberry was an effective treatment for the flu and other winter ailments. I was still skeptical, but the seeds had been planted.
As if we needed any more reasons to drink our elderberry syrup, Matthew Wood adds that “[the berries] have a property not found in the other parts of the plant; they are used as a tonic to the build up the blood and combat anemia. For this purpose they may be combined with blackberries” (434). Dark berries = yum. Cancer-fighting anthocyanins, anybody?
I first saw elder’s creamy white flowers on the slopes of the Blue Mountains in North Carolina, and didn’t see it again until I was at Sage Mountain in Vermont. The last time I saw it was last June in southern Minnesota, on the sides of bluffs and hills outside Winona. Is that just a coincidence that all the places I have seen the black elder growing were either mountains or hillsides? Although I have seen elder growing in Northern Minnesota, it is not the right kind to harvest (it may be red elder). Typical of the elder of fairy tales and folk lore, whenever I find an elder tree in the woods up here, I can never find it again! For you Duluthians, there are a few in Hartley park, in the deer-proofed area.
I have come across many elderberry syrup recipes over the years. This recipe from Rosemary Gladstar is the one I like the most because 1) it is alcohol free, 2) it can be made with fresh or dried berries, and 3) storing it in the refrigerator reminds me to use it was a food and medicine. It is seriously delicious with baked garnet yams, waffles, or mixed with mineral water.
- 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup honey
1. Heat the berries and water to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-45 minuets.
2. Mash the berries, strain, and add 1 cup of honey. I add a half cup of the purple liquid to a measuring cup, then pour in honey until the total volume is 1 1/2 cups. Then stir to mix well, and add to the rest of the reserved liquid.
3. Bottle and store, refrigerated. for 2-3 months.
4. Enjoy a tablespoon daily to keep the immune system strong, use more often when afflicted with the flu.
Refereance: Gladstar, Rosemary. The Family Herbal.