Astragalus, a hardy plant with fragrant yellow blossoms, is related to both licorice and peas. Astragalus root contains therapeutic substances that help stimulate the immune system. Astragalus has been integral to Chinese traditional medicine for over 2000 years, as it is believed to help balance "qi"- the life force. In China, dried astragalus root is often added to soup for both flavor and health purposes.

The root of the astragalus plant contains polysaccharides, a kind of carbohydrate that enhances immunity. It acts as a tonic to increase stamina, strengthen resistance to disease and improve general health and well being. Some studies show that astragalus may also act as an antibiotic and antiviral agent. Plus, astragalus acts as an antioxidant, off-setting damaging free radicals in the body. Furthermore, it may help counteract some of the negative effects of stress.

Astragalus is particularly good at warding off colds, flu and other upper respiratory infections. Like echinacea, this herb should be taken at the first sign of symptoms to help lessen the duration and severity of the illness. Some even suggest taking astragalus regularly to help prevent contracting these infections in the first place.

In present-day China, astragalus is often prescribed to bolster the immune systems of those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer. Studies have shown the herb can increase the body's production of T cells, macrophages, interferon and other important cells. Western doctors are slowly starting to embrace the immune-strengthening powers of astragalus as well, and have noted that it may also be beneficial for those with heart disease and high blood pressure.

Astragalus is found in tablet, capsule, tincture and tea forms. As a bonus, the herb can be safely taken along with conventional treatments without interference.

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