Benefits of Astragalus

| September/October 1998

  • Calligraphy by Kai-Ho Mah

Chinese characters are stylized pictures with several layers of meaning, which makes the writing and interpretation of these characters a complex art form. Two characters make up the written Chinese word for astragalus, huang-qi. The top character, “huang,” means ­yellow, the bottom, “qi,” means venerable, according to Kai-Ho Mah, a calligrapher and ­professor of foreign languages and Asian studies at Colorado State University.

For the ­Chinese, yellow is the color of life-giving earth, he says, and this quality is reflected in the huang character’s depiction of a fence above a square rice paddy, beneath which are two marks ­indicating the sweat from labor.

Qi shows the crosslike forms of two plants atop the character lao, translated as aged and venerated. Lao in turn sits above a square-shaped sun.

Together, these symbols mean a plant both venerated and good for the elderly, one that will bring many more days. The sound “qi,” when pronounced with different intonations, also means vital force, addiction to sensory pleasures, and to eat—all meanings that factor into the idea that astragalus increases vitality and overall health.

In the ancient Chinese herbal Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, under the category of superior herbs, there is a listing for a plant known as huang-qi, praised for its ability to fight fatigue and general debility.

Today, Westerners know this herb as astragalus, and scientists are learning that the lessons of ancient cultures are not to be dismissed. Modern research shows that astragalus’s reputation can be attributed to compounds that boost the immune system and help many people in distress, including cold-sufferers and chemotherapy patients.

10/27/2015 10:39:56 AM

I bought seeds for the Astragalus sinicus and am wondering if this would be considered huang qi as well. From all my research it looks like it's the Astragalus menbranaceus or something similar. I know that some Astragalus can be poisonous and want to make sure I have the right genus. Also, do you know if the flower of the Astragalus sinicus would be yellow or pink? Thank you so much!!

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