Astragalus is a perennial and medicinal herb that has been used in both gardens and medicine cabinets for centuries. It is a very valuable and useful plant for a homestead, filling many roles, and providing many benefits.

A leguminous plant (related to beans and peas), astragalus, or milkvetch as it is commonly known, fixes nitrogen from the air with the help of colonies of bacteria that live in its root system. This allows it to feed itself and other nearby plants. Hardy to Zone 5, astragalus prefers full sun and good drainage, and would guild well on the southern side of fruit trees, or the edges of garden paths in a permaculture system.

astragalus, a great permaculture plant

Astragalus, a great permaculture pant. Courtesy Jason Hollinger

Medicinally, astragalus root has been touted as an immune boosting herb that stimulates and promotes general health and immune system strength. In 20,000 Secrets of Tea, Victoria Zak says that a tea made from astragalus root is traditionally thought by Chinese medicine to strengthen a body’s “protective energy” and acts as a catalyst for other herbal remedies by tonifying the immune system and enhancing the properties of other herbs.

Astragalus root tea

A warm cup of Astragalus and spearmint tea, sweetened with raw honey

I try to have a cup of astragalus root tea anytime I know I’ll be around sickness or sick people, especially during flu season or if someone I know is sick. I’m enjoying some right now, actually. I combined it with a pinch of our dried spearmint, and a touch of raw honey. Its flavor is good on its own, slightly spicy and nutty I think, maybe a little too earthy to be a delicacy, but not at all unpleasant. It blends really well with other herbs, and this mint combo is pretty tasty.

We will definitely be planting some astragalus this spring; its medicinal properties are more than enough reason to, but the added benefit of fixing nitrogen makes it a great addition to our food forest. From what I’ve read, it takes a few years before the roots are harvestable, so for now I’ll stick with the astragalus root powder we got this year. Like many herbs, it is available for purchase in many forms (capsules, extracts, etc.) but I prefer the powder for making delicious tea.

As always, this isn’t intended as medical advice, and you should always do your own research when looking into herbal remedies and alternative medicine. But in the meantime, I’ll have another sip of my astragalus and mint tea.