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You know how much I like to eat. But right now, where I am in our pregnancy, my relationship with food is ambivalent at best.

But breakfast, at least, I’ve got tucked away. Each evening, I put in a small bowl some rolled (GF) oats, a pinch of sea salt, a drizzle of agave nectar, and a spoonful of astragalus powder. Over this, I spoon a moderate amount of plain whole milk yogurt. After sitting in the fridge overnight, the oats are softened and toothsome, and the astragalus and agave impart a sweet, slightly nutty and buttery flavor to the mix. The yogurt provides good fats and probiotics to help with that touch-and-go pregnancy digestion. The whole mix is highly nutritive and supportive.

oats with yogurt and astragalus

Oats with yogurt and astragalus – an easy breakfast before getting to work.

It occurred to me this morning that this is an herbal remedy for me right now.

For any of you dealing with morning (or all-day) sickness, you might give this a whirl. On really rough mornings, I pair it with some spicy chai to get the digestive tract warmed up. Often this is followed with a hot cup of nutritive herbal tea  mid-morning.

The rest of the day is still touch-and-go, but mornings I’ve got pinned down at least.

As a side note, all astragalus powders are not created equal, so you might try a small amount before committing to a one-pound bag of an unfamiliar brand. I’ve had the best luck with Mountain Rose’s astragalus. I’ve had other astragalus powders that tasted slightly (weirdly) bitter—no idea why, but I know I didn’t like it.

What’s your herbal morning regimen? Favorite morning sickness remedies?

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I’m having a little love affair with astragalus of late. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that I prefer to be able to eat or drink my medicine, and astragalus is delightful in tea and in food, slightly sweet with an umami sort of buttery creaminess. I started craving it while recovering from surgery a couple weeks ago, and having done a little research now, I’m not at all surprised. Goes to show that our bodies often know what they need, even if our brain hasn’t sorted it out yet.

Astragalus membranaceus

Other names:
Astragalus, milk-vetch root, huang qi

Family:
Fabaceae – Pea Family

Astragalus

Parts used:
Root/rhizome

Actions:
Astragalus is one of the most well known tonic herbs in Chinese medicine and has been studied extensively by Asian scientists. Its long-held notoriety in Chinese medicine has engendered a fairly strong following in Western medicine as well. As well as being generally tonic to the entire body, astragalus is also considered a great adaptogen, stimulant to the immune system, energizing, diuretic, antibacterial and antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and hypotensive. It also  normalizes blood sugar levels, improves stamina, strengthens metabolism, and stimulates appetite. Overall, it acts to treat or prevent disease and infection by supporting and tonifying the entire body and the immune system. In China, astragalus, “is often called the ‘young people’s ginseng,’ as it is specifically indicated as an energizer for younger people,” (Gladstar, 39). In illustration of its adaptogenic action, it has been shown to stop, “debilitating sweating but… producing a therapeutic sweat if it is appropriate,” (Mabey, 77).

In regard to astragalus’s action as an immunostimulant, Gladstar comments, “It stimulates the rebuilding of the marrow reserve that supports and regenerates the body’s ‘protective shield,’ or immune system,” (Gladstar, 311). And not only does it increase, “the body’s production of interferon,” (Duke II, 32) which acts to promote the production of white blood cells to combat infection, it also enhances, “the particle ingestion capacity of white blood cells,” (Foster II, 7).

Indications:
Astragalus is used to strengthen and restore the body supportively to treat general fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath, lack of appetite, poor circulation, impotence and infertility, and autoimmune disorders such as AIDS. It is commonly employed in the treatment and prevention of a variety chronic ailments and recurring infections, such as cold, flu, candida infections, yeast infections, diarrhea, ulcers, and herpes. It has also been used in treatment of cancer, the Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  Its qi-promoting and diuretic actions aid in treatment of kidney complaints and edema.

Constituents:
Along with glycosides, choline, betaine, rumatakenin, beta-sitosterol, and vitamin A; astragalus also contains triterpenoid saponins, which behave in the same manner as animal steroid hormones; as well as polysaccharides,which imptove the function of NK and T-cells and also increase production of interferon, as noted in the Actions section above (Marti, 97).

Growing information:
This perennial herb normally grows one or two feet tall, with compound leaves of a dozen or so paired leaflets emanating from a hairy central stem. Its long clusters of yellow flowers bloom in early summer. It is cultivated in America and is easily grown from seed (the roots do not like to be disturbed through transplanting), but it needs well-drained, sandy soil and full sunlight. It is, “drought tolerant, but requires adequate moisture to grow well,” (Foster III, 29). A native to Mongolia and northeast China,  the root is there called huang qi, which means “yellow leader,” as it is one of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine for invigorating wei qi, or vital energy (Foster II, 6).

Astragalus root

Collection:
Dried astragalus root normally comes as long strips of rhizome, resembling tongue depressors, as shown in the above picture. They should be long and straight with creamy white color and a slightly yellow core. “The roots are not harvested until the autumn of a plant’s third to fifth year,” and are then partly dried, sliced, and dried further (Foster III, 29). Once the root has been fully dried, it can be used in this form or powdered. WARNING: “don’t pick your own out in the wild; some species are toxic,” (Duke II, 33).

Preparation:
Astragalus is often an ingredient in infusions, is also tinctured, and the root is commonly used in soups or chewed like a licorice stick. The powdered herb can also be mixed into a paste or added to cereal or yogurt.

Historical:
“Astragalus is first mentioned in the 2,000-year-old classic, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing,” and its use since then has been prevalent and well-studied. Among many of the findings regarding the herb’s effectiveness as an herbal medicine, “Since 1975, astragalus has been used in China in cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy,” by strengthening the immune system after the treatments had depleted it. “In the early 1980s, researchers in Houston, Texas, studied the effects of astragalus on ninteen cancer patients and fifteen healthy individuals. A chemical fraction extract of astragalus was found to restore T-cell function in 90 percent of the cancer patients to levels observe in the healthy subjects,” (Foster II, 6).

Warning:
No adverse effects have been observed. See the Collection section above for a warning about harvesting from the wild.

I love oats (gluten free oats, of course). It is probably my number one comfort food. Even if I’m sick with low appetite, I can eat oats, but they’re also my breakfast of choice—they just soothe the soul, you know? I love them cooked, especially on weekends when time isn’t as much of an issue, but I also love to eat them uncooked, just mixed with some yogurt or water, a pinch of sea salt, some fresh fruit or agave syrup, a dash or two of cinnamon, let it sit overnight or for an hour and enjoy at room temperature. Oats are unique in that they can be eaten raw, with no special preparation necessary for our bodies to be able to digest them. You get the picture: I am awfully fond of oats.

Meanwhile, there’s this lovely set of herbs called adaptogens of which I’m a big fan. Adaptogens are wonderful because they are tonic to the adrenals (which is to say that they help our bodies to cope with stress), they can be taken daily and indefinitely, and they have no undesired, harmful effects. They are simply, deeply nourishing, and I don’t know about you, but my adrenals are very grateful for the help some days.

Usually in the past I’ve eaten my adaptogens in paste form, which is lovely, but recently I made a fabulous discovery. Astragalus, probably my favorite herb in this group, is not only “not bad” or “tolerable,” it’s downright delicious! I ran out of paste last week and didn’t have time to whip up another bowl before heading off to work, so I mixed half a tablespoon of powdered astragalus into my bowl of oats (soaked overnight) along with the cinnamon and agave nectar. I figured I could stomach the result in the interest of getting my herbal goodness in. I didn’t expect to never want to eat oats any other way! Astragalus gives a nutty, almost buttery or creamy flavor… you just have to try it.

I’ve also heard a few people say that they like to put larger chunks of dried astragalus in soup for herbal benefit and additional flavor. I haven’t tried this yet, but oh, I will be trying it very soon…

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