Let me explain: a "monograph" is a lengthy description of a particular herb (there are also drug monographs, but I will not concern myself with those) that usually includes Latin name and botanical family, common name(s), parts used, how to identify them and grow them, where/how to source or buy them, their energetic profile (according to organoleptic analysis and traditional healing practices), physiological actions, clinical uses, key constituents, relevant scientific literature, safety concerns, preparation methods, and dose. A "Materia Medica" is a compendium of medicinal herbal monographs. There are many materia medicas from different herbal and traditional medical modalities, such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Eclectic Medicine, Tibetan Medicine, Modern Western Herbalism, and so on. I will not post my entire collected materia medica (mine is over 300 pages long so far and growing), but I will post a few herbs that I think everyone with CF (and many other people, too) will benefit from knowing.
Botanical Name, Family
Astragalus propinquus (used to be know as A. membranaceous)
Family: Fabacea (pea/legume family)
Huang qi (yellow chi)
Identification, Grow and Harvest
I am not a botanist so this is not my forte, but you can look up the detailed botanical description, if you want to nerd out. Basically it's a perennial shrub with pinnately compound leaves that are stereotypically "leguminous". Grows up to about 3 feet tall (1 meter) and the taproot is very yellow. It requires full sun but does well in pretty much any soil. It is native to China and East Asia, where it has been one of the staples of their herbal medical traditions for thousands of years. From what I hear, it is relatively easy to grow in temperate climates, preferring zones 6-11. The roots can typically be harvested after two years of growth.
If you go to any Chinese apothecary, it will be very easy to spot the tongue-depressor-like slivers of astragalus root, usually kept in glass jars or packaged in plastic. Astragalus is one of the more well-known Chinese herbs in the West, so you can also purchase many different types of preparations of this herb in Western markets or online: pills, tincture, powder, cut and sifted, etc. Always look for organic certified astragalus, as you want to make sure it was grown in healthy soil and away from polluted areas. This means, unfortunately, that the cheaper astragalus you can find in Chinese apothecaries may not be the best choice, unless it's certified organic.
Warm and moist
(It is important to consider energetics when using herbs because if you are already a hot and moist person, taking hot and moist herbs can exacerbate your symptoms. But if you're dry and cold, a hot and moist herb will help balance you.)
Mild adaptogen (not acting directly on the adrenals), anticancer*, immunostimulant*, antiviral, antioxidant, amphoteric for sweating, diuretic, hypotensive, hepatoprotective, nephroporective, vasodilator.
* indicates primary action
Deficient white blood cell count with weak immunity. Deficient wei chi (which resides in the lungs) and weak lungs. Debility from chronic infection.
- Traditional uses in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine):
- tonifies the Chi and the Blood
- Recovery from blood loss
- Fatigue with decreased appetite
- Tissue weakness, organ prolapse
- Increases Spleen chi, lung chi, and yang
- Chronic weak lungs and frequent respiratory infection; shortness of breath (improves blood oxygen saturation by increasing red blood cells); prevents respiratory infections
- Asthma; seasonal allergic rhinitis
- Helps quit smoking and helps the lungs recovery from smoke damage
- I personally think this herb is ideal for people with CF, as it boosts overall immune function, but most especially in the lungs. CFers often have issues with anemia, so it is also useful for that issue. It also improves "Spleen chi", which in Chinese medicine means digestive and assimilative function
- To prevent pathogenic infection by stimulating creation of white blood cells (WBCs); stimulates their replication in the bone marrow (hematopoiesis)
- Raises immune response by increasing natural killer cells, immunoglobulins, upregulates B-cells (lymphocytes), normalizes IgA
- Helps prevent systemic infections from both virus and bacteria: mononucleosis, hepatitis, Lyme, etc. Great to take long term in places or times of high risk of infection
- Restore depleted bone marrow function to increase red blood cells (RBCs) and WBCs. Helpful in chronic debilitating disease, especially cancer with chemotherapy. Reduces side effects of chemo – a critical adjunct treatment! Chemo inhibits replication of blood cells (causing low immunity, anemia, and fatigue), and astragalus can counteract this
- Help prevent cancer by improving immune surveillance with natural killer cells and also as an antioxidant
- Do not use in acute infections nor for people with normally healthy immune systems. Be careful with autoimmune diseases - may be overstimulating to the immune system in a way that could exacerbate immune reactivity (this is unclear). Not for use in immediate infections, takes a while to work. Better for prevention and chronic issues
- protects the tubules of the nephrons from nephrotoxic drugs and poisons
- Diabetic nephropathy; chronic nephritis from other causes
- Regulates fluid metabolism, normalizes sweating, prevents unwanted leakage of fluids
- Helpful for non-responsive kidney/bladder infections, chronic UTIs
- Reduces blood pressure by vasodilation of peripheral and coronary arteries
- As an antioxidant protects the endothelium of vessels from oxidative damage, thus helping to prevent atherosclerosis
- As an antiviral helps to prevent endocarditis (infection of the heart)
- Protects against congestive heart failure and improves recovery from heart attack
- Modern Chinese use: used in formulas for chronic hepatitis, lowers liver enzymes. Often prepared as IV injection.
- Triterpenoid saponins/phytosterols - astragalosides. Immunostimulating, hepatoprotective, interacts with endocrine system (very mildly effecting adrenals as an adaptogen).
- Complex polysaccharides - immunostimulating and prebiotic.
- Gamma-amino-butyric-acid (GABA) - inhibitory neurotransmitter.
- Phenolic compounds - caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid. Hepatoprotective, immunostimulating, antioxidant.
- Flavonoids - quercetin, campferol. Anti-inflammatory.
- Minerals - zinc, selenium.
There are hundreds and hundreds of human clinical trials (as well as in-vitro and animal studies) on astragalus, mostly carried out by researchers in China for all sorts of issues. I cannot possibly name all relevant clinical trials here, but I will mention a few interesting studies. If you're interested, go to www.pubmed.gov or search Google Scholar to find more.
- Using astragalus during and after lithotripsy (breaking up kidney stones with shock waves) reduced indicators of kidney damage compared to controls. [Abstract]
- Astragalus injection in people on renal dialysis significantly decreased indicators of oxidative stress and inflammation compared to controls. [Abstract]
- Astragalus injection significantly improved survival rates and quality of life of patients receiving chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer compared to controls. [Abstract]
- Astragalus injection in cancer patients reduced rate of cancer progression, improved white blood cell count and other indices of immune health, and improved quality of life compared to controls. [Abstract]
- Astragalus (as well as echinacea and licorice) increases indices of immune activity in humans. Taking all of them together had an additive effect. [Abstract]
- Astragalus improves heart contraction and quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure in a dose-dependent manner. [Abstract] Astragalus also improves heart contractility and immune function in those with congestive heart failure. [Abstract]
- Astragalosides activatec T cell activity in mouse cells. [Abstract]
There are no known drug interactions. It may not be a good idea if you are an excessively hot and overstimulated person. It is best for people with weak or imbalanced immune responses. If used in people with healthy immune responses, it can possibly overstimulate the immune system. If used in healthy people, small doses used as a tonic are usually fine, but not large doses. Do not use during autoimmune flares.
Preparation and Dose
All doses mentioned here are for general information, not personal prescription. Doses may vary from person to person. Consult an herbalist to determine what is right for you.
- In food: add dried root to soup stocks and simmer for many hours. This is the most traditional way to take astragalus. Drinking soups with astragalus in it at least once a week is good for health maintenance and prevention of infection. Drink everyday for greater effect.
- Decoction: a type of long-simmered tea, usually made up of a combination roots and medicinal mushrooms (your stereotypical witch's brew). Decoct at least 2 tsp (10-30 g) of root per 12 oz water, simmer for at least 30 mins (up to several hours or days - crock pots are ideal for decoctions). Drink 3 cups per day.
- Tincture: because astragalus contains both complex polysaccharides and triterpenoid saponins, you need two different processes to extract each of these constituents to the greatest extent possible. This is the same for medicinal mushrooms like reishi. So what the herbalist must to to make a really potent tincture is to do a "double extraction": tincture and decoct the root seperately, then combine both. It is a slightly complicated process that I have not done myself, so I will refer you here for more information. If you're just buying the tincture, look for "double extraction" on the label, if possible. The dose is 2-8 mL three times a day.
- Powder: 9-15 g per day (high dose), probably more economical to use tincture or decoction.