The benefits of astragalus root in Chinese cooking include strengthening the inner energy of the body and boosting the immune system. Try it with these 6 astragalus recipes.
Astragalus 黄芪 (huang qi) is widely used in soups that are considered general tonics, especially for people who are feeling a little under the weather. It helps to increase energy levels, build up resistance especially when your immune system is lowered by overworking and stress. If you are feeling a little blue or lethargic, try to add some astragalus into your diet.
I once tried to munch on a slice of astragalus root, just for fun. It is not harmful but I wouldn't recommend it. It isn't very nice. So, why should you eat it and how do you eat it?
Recent scientific studies in China have revealed that natural substances in the root promote blood cell formation in the bone marrow. It also stimulates the production of interferon, a protein that regulates cell growth and works on the immune system. It has also been observed to exhibit positive effects on viral infections, ulcers, blood pressures and certain types of cancer. It seems to have a diuretic function and acts positively on the liver. More research is being conducted to explore and learn about its effects on various types of diseases such as liver cancer and diabetes.
Astragalus powders and pills are now quite common in the drug stores. People are paying and taking these health supplements hoping that it would improve their health. But nothing beats preparing the real and natural thing in food. It is probably cheaper too.
Recognizing the astragalus root
Astragalus root, known scientifically as radix astragali, is the root portion of astragalus membranaceus or astragalus propinquus. A plant from the pea family, it is native to Mongolia. It is now grown commercially in Northeast China and Northern China. It has also been called milk-vetch root although I am not too sure if they refer to the same thing.
The root is long, cylindrical and yellow-brownish in colour. The root is dried and sliced thinly. It has a mild licorice-like taste.
Thin slices of the astragalus root. Photo by Phoebe Lim
I am most used to buying the thin long slices but am aware that it can come in chips, chunks and powder as well. I believe slices come from whole roots which are of better quality. But that's just my personal opinion.
What is the difference between 黄芪 (Huang qi) and 北芪 (Bei qi)?
Bei qi refers to astragalus root from Inner Mongolia. It is a slight variation and the quality is supposed to be better than those from other parts of China. So if you come across Chinese herbal recipes listing Bei qi as an ingredient, know that it is astragalus.
How do you use astragalus?
Because it is a root and isn't very palatable, it is almost always used in soups or tea, seldom in stir-fries or other types of cooking. I have recipes that paired it with tea, fish, pork, various vegetables and chicken.
In soups, it is almost always combined with other complementary Chinese herbs. The key is to consume it on a consistent basis. So, a tea infusion might be an easier way to introduce astragalus to your daily diet.
A visitor had contacted me saying that she substituted the dried root slices with astragalus powder from supplement capsules and that it worked. You may try it if you have them. You may have need to reduce the amount as powder tend to be more concentrated.
1. Astragalus tea
If you think you are coming down with a flu or cold, have sinus or an ear infection, try drinking astragalus root tea before you pop pills.
10g dried astragalus root slices
1g red tea leaves or 1 red tea bag
500 ml water
Adjust the strength of the tea to suit your preference by adjusting the amount of the astragalus added. Don't feel obliged to follow this recipe strictly.
Add the slices or powder to water and bring to a boil in a small saucepan
Let it boil for about 5 minutes
Remove the slices from the water or strain the water
Place the tea bag in a cup and pour the astragalus water into the cup
Steep the tea bag for a couple of minutes
Pour the astragalus tea in a thermal flask and sip it slowly throughout the day
2. Astragalus chicken soup
This is a gentle and nourishing tonic soup. It is cooked slowly over a long period of time using preferably a Chinese double-boiling jar. If you don't have it, you can make this soup in a slow cooker or over the stovetop. It will require gentle low heat.
1 chicken thigh, preferably from a free-range organic chicken
4 slices of astragalus
8 red dates
1 tbsp goji berries
Directions (for double-boiling jar)
Wash and clean the chicken thigh. Trim away excess fat and skin
Parboil the chicken thigh
Soak the Chinese herbs (astragalus, red dates and goji berries) for a short while
Cut the red dates into halves and remove the seeds
Place all the ingredients into the double-boiling jar
Pour cold water into the jar, enough to cover the ingredients
Place the jar into a deep pot and fill the pot with water until the jar is half submerged
Bring the pot of water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour
Add salt to taste before serving.
If you have a slow cooker or rice cooker that can fit the jar, use it. That way, you don't have to keep watch. ; )
3. Astragalus pork soup
This astragalus pork soup contains 6 different Chinese herbs. It is good for maintaining general health and to relieve tiredness.
The herbs came from a store-bought pre-mixed herbal soup pack. I took the soup pack apart and laid the herbs out onto a plate for a photo so that you can see the herbs clearly.
The pork ribs are freshly bought and a thermal cooking pot was used to simmer the soup. If you don't have a thermal pot, use a slow cooker or stock pot on the stovetop.
Besides parboiling the pork ribs in a separate pot first, everything else is placed together in the inner pot and cooked together. It is really super easy to prepare. It took approximately 10 minutes to bring everything to a boil on the stove and another 4 hours to cook in the thermal cooker using inducted heat.
From left: astragalus root, dried Chinese yam, codonopsis root, dried dates, dried longan, goji berries. Photo by Phoebe Lim
So sorry, this is not a very good picture of the soup I made :P
Place the astragalus, codonopsis root, Chinese yam, dried longan, Chinese wolfberries and red dates into the inner pot of the thermal cooker
Add the pork ribs
When the water boils, pour enough to cover all the ingredients in the inner pot
Place the inner pot on high heat on the stove and let the water come back to a boil and cook for a further 5-10 minutes
Remove carefully from the stove and place the inner pot into the outer pot
Close and seal the lid
Leave the thermal pot to work its magic for about 4 hours
When you are ready to serve, remove the inner pot from the outer pot
Place the inner pot back on stove and bring to a boil
Add salt to taste
Serve in a big serving bowl or individual small bowls
4. Astragalus fish soup
Chinese angelica root and astragalus root are good nourishing herbs. Cod contains protein, calcium and phosphorus. Suitable for 1 year old and above.
20g chinese wolfberries
10g astragalus root
2 slices chinese angelica root
20g cod fish or any firm white fish
1 tbsp cornstarch mixture
1 tsp salt
Soak the chinese wolfberries, astragalus and chinese angelica root
Steam the cod fish
Mash the fish into small pieces
Place the astragalus and chinese angelica root into water
Bring the water and chinese herbs to a boil, lower heat and simmer till the water is reduced by 1/3
Add the cod pieces and chinese wolfberries and bring the water back a boil
Stir in the cornstarch mixture and season with salt
The next 2 astragalus recipes do not contain meat.
5. Astragalus broccoli soup
This is a home detox recipe and it contains tomato, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Together, the 3 ingredients offer loads of vitamins and minerals and are considered indispensable in diets aimed at cancer prevention.
Broccoli and tomato is considered a great anti-oxidant pair. They are reputed to aid in cell repair, balance blood pressure and lower blood sugar. However, they are not suitable for everyone. Those with kidney problems should avoid them.
The instruction is to remove the tomato skin because it is not easily digested. This is good for people who have digestive issues or for the elderly. If you like the skin (like me), you can skip that step.
12g astragalus root
3 fresh shiitake or Chinese mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt
1 litre water or vegetable soup stock
Wash the broccoli and cut into little florets
Wash the mushrooms and cut in half
Wash the tomato, remove the skin by scoring the skin with a knife and blanch the tomato with hot water and cold water. The skin should shrink from the fruit making it easy to remove. Cut the fruit into quarters.
Bring the astragalus and water to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes
Add the tomato and mushrooms and cook a further 15 minutes.
Lastly, add the broccoli, turn up the heat and cook till broccoli is done
Add salt to taste
6. Astragalus carrot and potato soup
This recipe contains broccoli, carrot, corn and potato. It boosts your immunity. Of all the vegetables in this recipe, broccoli cooks the quickiest, turning yellow and losing its nutrients. Cut into small florets and add it LAST.
Peel the carrot and potato. Cut both into bite-sized cubes. Wash and drain
Cut the broccoli into small florets. Wash and drain
Wash the sweet corn, cut into sections
Add the vegetable stock in a pot, add the carrot, potato, sweet corn, and astragalus
Bring the soup stock to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the carrot and potato become tender
Add the broccoli and cook till it is done
Add salt to taste before serving
Buying Astragalus Root Online
Astragalus is not for everyone
In traditional Chinese medicine, Bei Qi is commonly recommended to many types of immune disorders caused by poor or low immune functions. Because it stimulates your immune system, people with already over-active immune systems such as patients with multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis should not consume it. The same goes for organ transplant patients. It is also notrecommended for pregnant or nursing women.
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