The roots of the astragalus are what is used in herbal healing. They are harvested in the fall (as roots usually are), after the plant is at least 3 years old. Any earlier and the roots would not be of size to make the effort in harvesting worth it.
Astragalus has a main tap root, that can be difficult to harvest. When harvesting taproots, I like to wait until there has been some light rain if possible. It helps if the ground has a bit of moisture.
For most of us, astragalus is going to be an herb that we purchase. In that case, having two forms is handy. The strips, resembling tongue depressors, are useful for cooking. Their large size makes them easy to remove from a finished dish. Shredded astragalus is also a common way to find this herb for sale. In the case of shreds, They are easier to use in washes and teas or decoctions, simply straining them from the liquid when finished. In all my years using astragalus root, I have never found it to become soft, no matter how long I simmered it.
Astragalus is generally grown in China, and the dried root imported. The root is often sold as thin, hard strips, resembling tongue depressors, that can be added to broth as they are cooked. Astragalus root is very hard when dry. It is best stored out of direct sunlight, in a sealed container.
All About Astragalus:
Widely regarded for its ability to provide immune support, astragalus is an important herb to have in your herbal cabinet.
Although grown primarily in China, there is no reason not to try it in your own garden. The seeds do take some preparation before they will germinate. astragalus seeds need to be stratified and then scarified, before planting.
Medicinally, astragalus is a powerhouse. Unlike more commonly known immune boosters, Astragalus helps support the immune system without the stress on the adrenals that many immune boosters do. Generally regarded as safe, astragalus is pleasantly flavored. This makes tea and broth perfect vehicles for dosing. Think of astragalus as your guard against winter illness. Astragalus also had anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it a useful herb for skin ailments. To use astragalus for skin issues, try making an ointment and apply to clean, healing skin. To help with infection, apply a wash of astragalus to the wound.
There are two precautions known about astragalus. The first one, is that it interferes with drugs that suppress the immune system. This makes sense, as astragalus helps to strengthen the immune system, and should be avoided by someone taking immunosuppresent drugs. The second concern is anyone taking Lithium. Astragalus makes it harder for the body to rid itself of lithium, resulting in dangerously high doses of Lithium to build up in the body. Avoid using Astragalus if you are prescribed either of these types of medications. Finally, although considered a safe herb, please alert your medical practitioner if you are nursing or pregnant.
Historically, Chinese have been using astragalus since ancient times. It is used as a remedy for many ailments,such as high blood pressure, colds, stomach ulcers and digestive issues. Called Huang-qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus is combined with other immunosupporting herbs and used to protect the body against disease.
Categorized as an adaptogen, astragalus is used to protect against many stressors, including emotional and mental stress. This would make astragalus a logical herbal ally if you were going to be exposed to a highly stressful situation. For the home herbalist, astragalus can be used in many ways. The easiest is to use it in your soups and broths. Simply add a stick of dried root to the simmering broth, and remove before serving. Because of the hard, fibrous nature of the root, it is not recommended that you use shredded astragalus, unless you keep it contained in something, for easy removal. I often use a piece of cheesecloth, add a handful of the root and then remove the spent bundle after simmering.
Astragalus can also be made into a tincture, for a handy herbal remedy to colds and flu symptoms. Not a typical tincture however, Herbalist Richo Cech recommends using a strong decoction of the herb, preserved with 22% grain alcohol.