English: Milkvetch roots

Chinese: 黄芪

Parts used: Dried root

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Lung Spleen

Scientific name: Astragalus membranaceus

Use of Huang Qi (milkvetch roots) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities and smaller roots, dry and cut into sections.

Dosage: 9 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Wei Qi and stops perspiration. Tonifies the Spleen Qi and the Yang Qi of the Earth Element. Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Expels pus and assists in the healing of wounds. Helps to regulate water metabolism in the body and reduce edema.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Huang Qi may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Anorexia Diarrhea Rectal prolapse Abnormal uterine bleeding Albuminuria Acute nephritis Diabetes Night sweats Uterine prolapse Edema

Contraindications*: Should not be used for case of Excess or Deficiency of Yin with Heat signs and should not be used when there is Stagnation of Qi with painful obstruction.

Common TCM formulas in which Huang Qi is used*

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic hepatitisArrhythmia and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Huang Qi strongly tonifies Qi and raises the Yang Qi of the Spleen and Stomach. It also prevents further Qi loss through leakage to the outside.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Diuretic, clears Excess fluid and removes edema. Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Calms External Wind.

Conditions targeted*: AscitesEdema and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang, Huang Qi is the principal ingredient in Chinese Medicine for stabilizing the Protective Qi in cases of Deficiency.

Read more about Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: Nervous exhaustionMyasthenia gravis and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Gui Pi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

Read more about Gui Pi Tang

Tong Ru Dan

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Removes Stagnation from the breast connecting Meridians.

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Tong Ru Dan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tong Ru Dan, Huang Qi , much like Ginseng (the other key herb here) tonifies Qi which is the ultimate source of breast milk.

Read more about Tong Ru Dan

Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Source date: 1548 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Draws out toxicity. Expels pus from the interior. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Tuo Li Xiao Du San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tuo Li Xiao Du San, Huang Qi fortifies the Spleen and tonifies Qi. For this specific formula, it is added to resolve toxins in chronic cases where there is also a Deficiency. In such cases, the body's Qi is so deficient that it cannot expel toxins and bring an attack to an end.

Read more about Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNervous exhaustion and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Shi Quan Da Bu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, Huang Qi is sweet and warm.  It is considered one of the top Qi tonifying herbs in TCM. It is entirely Yang in nature and it strongly stimulates the Qi dynamic. It raises the Yang and disperses Blood and Essence throughout the entire body.

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Ju Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Heavy menstruationMetrorrhagia and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Ju Yuan Jian. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ju Yuan Jian, Huang Qi strongly tonifies Qi and raises the Yang Qi of the Spleen and Stomach. It also prevents further Qi loss through leakage to the outside.

Read more about Ju Yuan Jian

Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Yang.

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang, Huang Qi tonifies and raise Qi.

Read more about Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Bao Yuan Tang

Source date: 1624

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Qi and warms the Yang.

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Bao Yuan Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

Read more about Bao Yuan Tang

Bu Yang Huang Wu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi. Invigorates Blood. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: Poststroke hemiplegiaCerebrovascular disease and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Bu Yang Huang Wu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Bu Yang Huang Wu Tang, Huang Qi strongly tonifies the original Qi. Its dosage is five times bigger than all the other herbs combined, which shows the clear purpose of this formula. 

Read more about Bu Yang Huang Wu Tang

Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies the Middle Burner (Spleen and Stomach). Tonifies Qi. Relieves spasmodic pain.

Conditions targeted*: Gastric ulcerGastralgia and others

Huang Qi is a king ingredient in Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang, Huang Qi is sweet and warm.  It is considered one of the top Qi tonifying herbs in TCM. It is entirely Yang in nature and it strongly stimulates the Qi dynamic. It raises the Yang and disperses the Blood and Essences throughout the entire body. 

Read more about Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang

Juan Bi Tang

Source date: 1178 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and harmonizes the Protective and Nutritive Qi. Dispels Wind. Eliminates Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: Periarthritis of the shoulderRheumatoid arthritis and others

Huang Qi is a deputy ingredient in Juan Bi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Juan Bi Tang, Huang Qi augments the Qi and firms up the protective Qi. In combination with Saposhnikovia root (Fang Feng), it dispels Wind-Damp, while in combination with Dong Quai (Dang Gui) and White peony root (Shao Yao), it harmonizes the nutritive and protective Qi.

Read more about Juan Bi Tang

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNonhealing ulcers and others

Huang Qi is a deputy ingredient in Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, Huang Qi helps Ginseng tonify the Qi

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Shen Qi Si Wu Tang

Source date: 846 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Restores and nourishes Blood. Stimulates Blood circulation. Tonifies Qi.

Huang Qi is an assistant ingredient in Shen Qi Si Wu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Shen Qi Si Wu Tang, Huang Qi tonifies Qi.  

Read more about Shen Qi Si Wu Tang

Wu Tou Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the channels and remove obstruaction. Disperse Cold and Dampness. Warms the joints. Relieve joints pain.

Conditions targeted*: Joint painJoint stiffness and others

Huang Qi is an assistant ingredient in Wu Tou Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Wu Tou Tang, Huang Qi strengthens the original Qi by tonifying it. It helps the Ephedra and in releasing the Exterior

Read more about Wu Tou Tang

Da Fang Feng Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Expel Wind Damp. Relieve pain. Tonify the Liver and the Kidneys. Tonify the Blood and Qi.

Conditions targeted*: ArthralgiaCommon cold and others

Huang Qi is an assistant ingredient in Da Fang Feng Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Da Fang Feng Tang, Huang Qi tonifies the Spleen so as to support the generating of the Blood and Qi. It is also one of the four ingredients of the formula Si Jun Zi Tang that is commonly used for Qi and Blood tonifying. 

Read more about Da Fang Feng Tang

Sheng Yu Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Preserves the Blood.

In Sheng Yu Tang, Huang Qi tonifies Qi

Read more about Sheng Yu Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Huang Qi's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Huang Qi belongs to the 'Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Qi tonics are typically sweet and they tend to enter the Spleen and Lungs because these Organs are most involved with the production of Qi.

Furthermore Huang Qi is Warm in nature. This means that Huang Qi tends to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition Huang Qi can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Huang Qi also tastes Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sweet ingredients like Huang Qi tends to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Huang Qi is thought to target the Lung and the Spleen. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body. The Spleen on the other hand assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body.

Research on Huang Qi

Milkvetch root can improve the immune function of patients with acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.1

An extract of A. propinquus called TA-65 may activate telomerase, extending the lengths of the shortest telomeres which protect the terminal DNA at the ends of all chromosomes.2

Huanglan Granule (containing milkvetch root) has obvious inhibitory effect on rubella virus, both in vitro and in vivo, it can also raise the immunity of organism.3

Calycosin (the major bioactive chemical in the dry root extract of Radix astragali) exhibits promising effects for the treatment of tumors, inflammation, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases.4

The polysaccharides, saponins, and flavonoids of Radix astragali, and the whole extract of Radix astragali have been widely reported with their anticancer effects in preclinical studies and showed a potential application as a adjunctive cancer therapeutics with the activities of immunomodulation, anti-proliferation and attenuation of adverse effects induced by cytotoxic therapy.5

Radix Astragali could significantly relieve the clinical symptoms such as hidrosis and palpitation, regulate the immune function of Graves disease patients, playing an important role in the adjuvant therapy for Graves disease.6

Sources:

1. Jiang D, Wang X, Su Q, Jiang S, Yuan F, Zhang C, Gong F, Dong Q, Shi J, Chen B. (2015). Milkvetch root improves immune function in patients with acute exacerbation of COPD. Biomed Mater Eng. , 26 Suppl 1:S2113-21. doi: 10.3233/BME-151517.

2. Harley, C. B.; Liu, W.; Blasco, M.; Vera, E.; Andrews, W. H.; Briggs, L. A.; Raffaele, J. M. (2011). "A Natural Product Telomerase Activator As Part of a Health Maintenance Program". Rejuvenation Research. 14 (1): 45–56. doi:10.1089/rej.2010.1085.

3. He Y, Hao XP, Yang D. (2008). Clinical and experimental study on effects of huanglan granule in inhibiting rubella virus]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 28(4):322-5./small>

4. Gao J, Liu ZJ, Chen T, Zhao D. (2014 ). Pharmaceutical properties of calycosin, the major bioactive isoflavonoid in the dry root extract of Radix astragali. Pharm Biol. , 52(9):1217-22. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2013.879188.

5. Jung Y, Jerng U, Lee S. (2016). A systematic review of anticancer effects of radix astragali. Chin J Integr Med. , 22(3):225-36. doi: 10.1007/s11655-015-2324-x.

6. Wu J, Liu DF, Chen Y. (2011). Effects of Radix Astragali on IL-1beta, TNF-alpha and antigen expression of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in patients with Graves disease. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 31(11):1487-90.