Astragalus membraneceous (common name: huang qi) Photo: Sudhir Ahluwalia

This herb is, among things, known for its anti-cancer properties.

The plant is a perennial herb or subshrub that grows to a height of 200 cm. The genus (Astragalus) to which the species belongs is one of the largest in the Fabaceae family, having approximately 2000 species. While the plant is one of the 50 fundamental Chinese medicinal herbs, there are 133 species of the genus that are found in Europe alone.

Astragalus membranaceus is said to have the highest concentration of active molecules. In trade, in addition to A. membranaceus, other species are also sold as ‘huang qi’, which is the Chinese name of the herb. Astragalus membranaceus is cultivated for medicine in China.

The herb is used in traditional medicine not only in China but also in several countries of Europe and Asia. In China, it is used as a tonic herb that stimulates the immune system and helps reduce blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels. Some use it as a substitute to ginseng, which comes from multiple species, particularly Panax ginseng.

The ability of the plant to help modulate and build the immune system has been used by Chinese herbalists as an adjuvant medicine to cancer patients. The effectiveness of this use has been validated in multiple experiments conducted by Chinese scientists (Chu et al., 1988).

Today, cancer specialists administer a two-drug regimen composted of vinorelbine and cisplatin to patients with advanced small-cell lung cancer. An Astragalus injective is claimed to improve the quality of life and survival of such patients (Guo et al., 2012). The herb was also observed to induce cancer cell death in chronic myeloid leukemia cell lines (Huang et al., 2012).

For more on this herb and other herbs used in traditional medicine, you can check here.

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