My first exposure to a ‘vetch’ was as a gardener, and I immediately recall my intense annoyance with this very hardy (read un-killable) legume. Turns out I should have had a little more respect for this tenacious invader, or at least for its amazing plant ‘cousin’, milk vetch.
Astragalus, also known as milk vetch and Huang-qi, is a legume native to China. There are over 1000 species in the Astragalus genus, but according to Richo Cech, author of Making Plant Medicine, the species Astragalus membranaceus and A. mongholicus are to be preferred for herbal medicine purposes, due to their superior efficacy compared to other astragalus species, so look for one of those if you want to try growing it yourself.
Astragalus membranaceus is believed to be safe for use during pregnancy, and indeed, is an herbal remedy with an amazing variety of indications that may be helpful during gestation. There is another astragalus species known as "locoweed" which is dangerous and has been associated with fetal malformations and miscarriages in animal studies; therefore, it is important to make sure to identify the correct species. Since astragalus is more potent than a nourishing herb, if you do decide to try astragalus, take the smallest effective dose. Short-term use only is recommended until more is known about the safety of A. membranaceus in pregnancy. Of course, it is always advisable that you consult with your health care provider before taking any herb during pregnancy.
Early pregnancy is notorious as a time when the expectant mother is astoundingly tired. Astragalus to the rescue! Astragalus helps to restore energy and improves an individual’s stamina. As if being exhausted isn’t enough, pregnant women often note that they are more susceptible to viruses, due to their diminished immune system functioning. Thankfully, astragalus is well known as an immune system booster. In fact, the only known medications with which astragalus interacts negatively are those designed to suppress the immune system, which, of course, most pregnant women will not be taking.
As pregnancy progresses, a woman’s body produces increasing amounts of progesterone, an essential hormone that helps her body maintain the pregnancy. However, progesterone has the effect of slowing digestion, which for some, can lead to flatulence. Thankfully for everyone, relief of gas is one of astragalus’s actions.
All those extra hormones, in addition to the greatly increased blood volume—normal during pregnancy—causes the expectant mom’s liver to work much harder. Astragalus supports liver functioning and is even believed to help restore liver damage. This makes astragalus an important herb for women at greater risk for pre-eclampsia, including moms with a personal or family history of pre-eclampsia, or a history of kidney disease, PCOS, hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease, sickle cell disease, or organ transplant; first-time moms; first pregnancies with a different father; obese moms; moms over age 40 or teen moms; moms by IVF; and moms expecting multiples, since decreased liver functioning plays a role in pre-eclampsia. This is especially true if you use astragalus with other liver-protective herbs such as dandelion and milk thistle (both believed safe for use during pregnancy). Kidney function is also aided by astragalus, making it a friend to pregnant women with a tendency to bladder infection or kidney stones.
Although many pregnant women find that their allergy symptoms are partially relieved during pregnancy, it is also a time when one is generally more reluctant to use over-the-counter and prescription medications for allergies, making astragalus an attractive, safe option for relief from allergies. Asthma sufferers can also look to astragalus for relief.
If you want to give astragalus a try, what is the best means to get it into your body? According to Richo Cech, the preferred method of consumption is a basic tea or decoction made from the fresh or dried root—ideally from roots dug in the fall of the second or third year of growth, or you can just add astragalus root to soups and consume it directly. If you don’t have access to the fresh or dried root, take astragalus in tincture form, using the dosage as recommended by the manufacturer, or as directed by your health care provider. Here’s to milk vetch: a powerhouse for pregnant moms!
Richo Cech, Making Plant Medicine, Horizon Herbs (Williams, OR) 2000
Jessie Hawkins, Herbalism for the Birth Professional Textbook, Thistle Publications (Franklin, TN) 2012
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