Podcast 178: Herbs A-Z: Asparagus & Astragalus

This week’s herbs from our apothecary shelf are shatavari and astragalus! These are a couple of slow-acting herbs for long-term work. Their restorative properties take some time for full effect, but they’re worth building the habit. We prefer to prepare both of these as decoctions.

Asparagus racemosus, called shatavari, is an Ayurvedic herb with cooling, moistening, and relaxant qualities. It’s an adaptogenic herb which can improve the stress response – especially for people with dry constitutions. Shatavari is famous as an herb for the dry tendencies of aging humans, but it’s really good for anyone prone to dryness, or for whom depletion has led to fatigue.

Astragalus membranaceus is a Chinese herb which is mildly warming, moistening, and tonifying. It is an immune restorative herb, most appropriate when recovering from illness. It can also help build up immune reserves when one may go into a place where they’re likely to be exposed to sick people. Astragalus maintains our immune defenses, but it’s not an immune stimulant and it’s not an herb we take when we’re acutely ill.

The formula we mentioned drinkin today includes: shatavari, astragalus, cacao nibs, hawthorn berries, ginger, cinnamon, & cardamom.

These quick plant profiles were done off-the-cuff & on-the-spot. If you enjoyed them, we have more! Our organized & comprehensive presentation of our herbal allies is in the Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. We have detailed profiles of 90 medicinal herbs! Plus you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses: twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, discussion threads integrated in each lesson, guides & quizzes, and more.

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:01):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:15):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:18):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Asparagus. Astragalus. Aspa-stragala. These are the herbs we’re going to be discussing today, my friends.

Katja (00:33):
So, we are continuing on our series of herbs A to Z, and this is herbs that are on our shelf. And to be honest…

Ryn (00:42):
It’s not every herb in the world. It’s not every medicinal herbs.

Katja (00:45):
It’s not even every herb on our shelf. It’s every herb in our upstairs shelf. We have some extra ones in the basement.

Ryn (00:52):
Yeah. It’s kind of a small apartment situation.

Katja (00:54):
Yeah. The ones that we don’t really work with as often or like the overflow are in the basement, but okay. But so today it is one of the Asparagai, not asparagus like you have at dinner time or lunch time. I mean, there’s nobody who can stop you from having asparagus for breakfast actually. But this is a different asparagus that you might know as shatavari.

Ryn (01:20):
Yes. And then after that, we’re going to talk about astragalus.

Katja (01:22):
Which you might know as astragalus.

Ryn (01:26):
Yeah. That’s pretty much what. So, these are these are two cool herbs that can hang out together, actually. And we’re drinking a combination today that includes shatavari and astragalus, along with some cacao and some hawthorn and some ginger and cinnamon and cardamom. And if I can say so, I think it came out really well.

Katja (01:52):
Yeah, I’m so into it.

Ryn (01:53):
So, we’ll come back to that formula in a minute. But first let’s remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (02:02):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States, so these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (02:14):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (02:27):
Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:38):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

Katja (02:52):
And also today we want to thank Mountain Rose Herbs.

Ryn (02:55):
And also, thanks Mountain Rose Herbs at mountainroseherbs.com.

Katja (03:00):
For sponsoring our podcast, this episode of our podcast. And you know, today I wanted to talk about salve making. Not that I probably would make shatavari or astragalus salve. Maybe, I don’t know. Probably not astragalus, possibly shatavari.

Ryn (03:21):

Katja (03:22):
I’m thinking about Solomon’s seal makes a really lovely salve. So, like maybe I might consider shatavari in a salve, but okay. But last night at Q&A. So, in our online herbal learning program all of our stuff is taught by self-paced video. But we have live Q and a sessions twice a week, so that you can ask your questions directly to us and get an answer right there. You can also ask them in writing and stuff and whatever. But anyway. So, last night in the Q&A session a student was asking about salve making. And this was a student in the herbal medicine making course where there are like step-by-step videos for everything. But she was like, I don’t know where to get beeswax. I don’t know anybody who has hives.

Ryn (04:10):
I tried following this bee, but he was zooming around so quick. I just couldn’t see where the hive was.

Katja (04:18):
And this person also, like there’s no like health food store or whatever in their relatively local community. Like they would have to drive a couple hours to get to a place that would stock beeswax. And so she was just like, I really want to make this salve, and I really don’t know what to do. And I said mountainroseherbs.com is the answer, because they have beeswax even. Like all the things that you need to like make your herbal medicines, even they have the fancy little tins.

Ryn (04:53):
Different kinds of tins, because you might prefer one kind over another. Small tins, little jars to put your salve into. Everybody has their preferences.

Katja (05:01):
Right. And before you order like some big bulk box of tins from some big packaging supplier or whatever, you want to know for sure that the tins that you get are the ones that you’re going to want. So, you can like just right there with your herb order, you can get your beeswax. You can get your little tins to put your salve in, all the different kinds. So you can try like the screw top, or the sort of pop on top, or the slide back and forth top, or whatever.

Ryn (05:27):
Yeah, and they’ve got the oils, and they’ve got – oh yeah – the herbs that you may want to infuse.

Katja (05:32):
Actually that part is probably important.

Ryn (05:33):
That you want to infuse into your oil, and then make into your salve. And yeah. So, it’s one-stop shopping. What can we say?

Katja (05:42):
Yeah, exactly. But I think it is really helpful for herb students, because a lot of times maybe you live in places where there just isn’t… These things aren’t available, or if they are it’s new to you, and you don’t know where to get them.

Ryn (05:57):
Yeah, I don’t know that herbalism is really accurately described as like a niche practice, especially when you take our really broad view of what herbalism is and can be. But places to find the vast array of different tools and substances and things that you might require to explore herbalism in all its variety, well, you need an herbalism focused place for that.

Katja (06:23):
And mountainroseherbs.com can be that place.

Shatavari: Asparagus racemosus, It’s Family Relations, & Properties

Ryn (06:27):
There they are. All right. So then, Asparagus. I just keep wanting to say it that way. I keep wanting to emphasize this is an asparagus. It’s an asparagus.

Katja (06:37):
Right. Like there’s a bunch of plants in the asparagus family. It’s not just the vegetable that you eat. Actually there are even many varieties of the vegetable asparagus, but it’s a big family.

Ryn (06:49):
Yeah. So the family there is going to be the Asparagaceae. Anytime you have -aceae at the end of your botanical word, that means a family. And that’s a taxonomical order that’s above the genus and the species. So, when you get your plant names, like say Asparagus racemosus, those two names are called the genus and species, right? And there are other asparagus plants out there, like Asparagus officinalis, right? So, that’s the same genus, but a different species. So, they’re all related together. These two are fairly closely related, because they’re in that same genus. There are like 200 asparagus species.

Katja (07:32):
That’s a lot asparagiis.

Ryn (07:38):
Yes, it is. Okay. And this is actually kind of an intriguing situation, because many of the members of what’s now considered the asparagus family have previously been considered a part of the Lily family. And there were a couple of other subgroups, and they’ve gotten shifted around and so on. But looking at plants by comparison and by family and by genetic relations is often productive. So, we can actually, maybe…

Katja (08:11):
It’s just like humans actually. So, okay. It is not true that in all human families talents kind of go throughout the family. But it is not uncommon that like in a family everybody’s good at music. Or in a family there’s a bunch of artists. Or in a family there are like many generations of nurses or whatever. And so herbs are the same way. Sometimes you get an herbal family, and everybody in the family has totally different skills. But that’s not as frequent, not as common as when you have an herbal family, and the plants in the family have very similar skills.

Ryn (08:54):
Yeah. Some overlap, some differentiation, you know? That’s how it goes. So, kind of riffing on that, I’ve known some folks who’ve experimented with garden asparagus, the stuff that you eat, and said, well. What happens if we take the root? What happens if we try to work with that as a decoction, and what does it taste like? What does it feel like? What kind of effects does it have that are noticeable? What kind of energetic qualities can we detect with our senses and with our observations? And they found some similarities to shatavari. But shatavari definitely stands apart. And I think that one comparison you could make here would be between garden basil and holy basil, garden basil and tulsi. So garden basil is fantastic. And it has nice aromatics, and it’s a great digestive relaxant.

Katja (09:42):
And honestly it does have nervous system like uplifting action.

Ryn (09:48):
Yeah. It can even help with blood sugar regulation to some extent. But when it comes to those uplifting qualities, when it comes to the hormonal and endocrine aspects of it, tulsi does kind of stand apart in a way. And with asparagus (the food) and shatavari (the asparagus relative) there’s a similar kind of situation going on. So, both asparagus and shatavari are going to be moistening and soothing, and help to maintain the water element of the body. But the shatavari has these extra elements that qualify it as an adaptogen. And one that you can work with for smoothing out your stress responses in a way that, so far anyway, garden asparagus doesn’t seem to do.

Katja (10:34):
It’s like when you’re playing a video game, and pretty much the last video game that I remember is Pac-Man. But you know, you’re just a little Pac-Man. You’re just eating your little dots. And then like you eat that special dot, and you blink, and suddenly you can like eat the ghosts. You’re charged up. And I think this is a thing that happens in all video games, but I just haven’t really played any since Pac-man.

Ryn (11:00):
There are occasional ways in which one can acquire powers. It’s a common theme.

Katja (11:06):
So it’s like that. Asparagus is awesome. You’re a little Pac-Man. You’re doing your thing. You’re eating your little white dots. And then shatavari is like woohoo! You can really eat those ghosts now.

Ryn (11:18):
Yeah. So, when we say something like this, it’s not just to say clearly shatavari is superior in all ways. And it’s like the better one, because it has more powers to it. Another way to interpret this kind of information is to say oh. Well, if I don’t have shatavari, but I need some adaptogenic effects. And I want to maintain a nice moistening effect all through the layers of my structure. Then maybe I could combine asparagus or asparagus root together with something like ashwagandha or eleuthero. And bring in their adaptogenic qualities, and combine them with those moistening aspects and that, again, that water elemental manipulation. And like reconstruct the set of effects that I’m looking for when I turn to shatavari.

Katja (12:03):
And listen, you might be like when are you going to actually tell us about shatavari? And why is this part so important? And here’s why it’s so important. Shatavari doesn’t grow here. But asparagus not only grows here, but it goes bonkers. Like if you have some asparagus, pretty soon you’re going to have all of the asparagus. It’s like zucchini. Like if you plant one zucchini in your garden, you’re going to have zucchini coming out your ears. It is that way with asparagus. The root systems of asparagus get very, very large. And you can actually harvest roots without destroying your stand of asparagus, if you’re careful and you work around the edges. I mean, you can buy shatavari in commerce for sure. But if this is a plant that you really want to work with, and you don’t have access to it, because it doesn’t grow around here, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get these effects. Because it is so closely related to asparagus, and asparagus grows so easily here. So, that’s why it is worth knowing these substitutions. Because sometimes you don’t have exactly the herb that you want.

Shatavari, Ashwagandha, Solomon’s Seal & Flavor

Ryn (13:20):
Yeah. Right. Well, since I brought ashwagandha into the discussion, we should probably talk about that one for a minute. And these two, shatavari and ashwagandha, are often spoken of in the same breath.

Katja (13:30):
Really. Yes. Like I think that shatavari and ashwagandha very much get put into the… So, both of these are actually ayurvedic herbs. But if you think about that black and white yin yang symbol – the black with the white dot and the white with the black dot – which comes from Chinese culture and Asian cultures. And then you think about like the Ayurvedic version of that. I feel like oh, it’s shatavari and ashwagandha, you know?

Ryn (14:08):
Yeah. They do make a nicely balanced pair. If we were to look at them in terms of their energetic qualities, the ashwagandha is certainly on the warming side. The shatavari is a little bit on the cooling side. The ashwagandha is drying. The shatavari is moistening. I consider both of them to be relaxant. But this is something that we need as a society.

Katja (14:31):
I feel like they’re relaxant somewhat differently though. Shatavari feels like relaxant so that you can relax. And ashwagandha feels like relaxant so that you’re not so tense, so that you can do the things you need to do, you know?

Ryn (14:51):

Katja (14:51):
I mean ashwagandha does have quite the reputation as a performance enhancing or an athletic performance enhancing herb. And I don’t think that that is off the mark.

Ryn (15:02):
Yeah. Well, energetics wise it’s kind of the difference between relaxation that you achieve through warmth versus that you achieved through moisture.

Katja (15:10):
Yeah. Or like relaxation with action in it versus relaxation with relaxation in it.

Ryn (15:25):
Yeah. But you know, the two of them, right, so they have those complimentary qualities. And then they have a lot of overlapping qualities in terms of, again, the adaptogenic effects, the improvement in your stress response, your ability to respond to stressors without getting completely thrown into a stress response, a fight or flight response. And then to move back down out of that again.

Katja (15:48):
Yeah. And that is so valuable today. So, I almost feel like… I mean I drink ashwagandha every day. And because my body runs damp anyway, I don’t usually drink shatavari. On rare occasion, but usually not. It’s ashwagandha for me every day. But if somebody were dry, like oh, I don’t know. This guy.

Ryn (16:17):
Yeah, me over here. Yeah, actually, this is one of those herbs where I’m like, I should really be working with shatavari more often.

Katja (16:23):
Every day.

Ryn (16:25):
And sometimes I even get around to doing it.

Katja (16:28):
We should make you your own not coffee.

Ryn (16:30):
I know I should have some kind of daily decoction. Sometimes I make them and enjoy them.

Katja (16:33):
It would be chai.

Ryn (16:36):
Yeah, daily chai, yeah.

Katja (16:38):
It wouldn’t be coffee for you. It would be chai.

Ryn (16:39):
But for sure this would be a good one to put in there. And shatavari works really well in decoctions. Yeah. That’s a great way to take it. Although on its own it’s actually not bad at all. So, we were talking about adding like coffee flavor or chai spice flavor or whatever for delight and for the beneficial effects of those herbs themselves. But shatavari on its own is worth tasting. It has kind of like a nutty flavor to it. There’s a little bit of sweetness. There’s a little bit of bitter, nowhere near as much as ashwagandha.

Katja (17:12):
Yeah, the bitter was really hard to find actually underneath the nuttiness. Or like it has body, you know?

Ryn (17:21):
Yeah. The flavor does remind me a lot of Solomon’s seal, which was another herb I wanted to bring into the discussion today. They are related. They’re both Asparagaceae. Solomon’s seal is in a different subfamily here, but anyway.

Katja (17:37):
They’re like cousins instead of siblings.

Ryn (17:39):
There you go. Yeah. That’s, that’s really good. So, you know, Solomon’s seal is an herb I’ve worked with a lot more extensively and for a longer time. But again, the flavor of the two of them is similar. And that speaks to having some qualities in common, right? A little bit of sweetness, the moistening qualities of it.

Katja (18:00):
That nuttiness or like cake-iness. It has a bready kind of flavor to it.

Ryn (18:08):
Yeah. I mean, the Solomon’s seal rhizomes have been just kind of like roasted like a potato sort of a starchy thing and eaten, which sounds really appealing to me. It’s not something that I’ve done, because I have not yet cultivated the enormous stands of Solomon’s seal that are in our future

Katja (18:27):
They are in the future. They are coming.

Ryn (18:30):
And then maybe on my birthday I’ll dig up a few Solomon’s seal tubers or rhizomes and roast them up.

Katja (18:36):
At every single apartment we’ve had Solomon’s seal. We’ve carried it with us. And then we always leave a little bit behind, and we carry it to the next place. But in our future someday there is going to be like so much Solomon’s seal.

Ryn (18:49):
Yeah. It’s going to be good. Well, and you know…

Katja (18:52):
And asparagus.

Ryn (18:54):
Right. Yeah. Well, Solomon’s seal has been an herb that I often will ask other herbalists, if I can like corner them at a conference or something, and be like hey. When you run out of Solomon’s seal, what are some herbs that can partially substitute for it? Because there are some plants where a substitute is pretty easy. If you don’t have thyme, you can work with oregano. Yeah, there are differences, but practically speaking.

Katja (19:18):
Yeah. They’re really interchangeable. They’re like twins.

Ryn (19:23):
But Solomon’s seal with that amazing capacity…

Katja (19:25):
Oh, for any twins out there, I don’t really mean it. You’re not actually interchangeable.

Ryn (19:30):
They’re not.

Katja (19:31):
No, you’re not. You’re not. Each of you is important, and yeah, okay.

Ryn (19:36):
Yeah. Clones? I don’t know. Okay. Anyway, Solomon’s seal, right? Hard to find a single herb that can do the things that Solomon’s seal does.

Katja (19:44):
It’s hard to find a collection of herbs that can do the things that Solomon’s seal does. Like it’s not actually easy to formulate for Solomon’s seal. It’s challenging.

Ryn (19:55):
Yeah. And what are we most interested in or most referring to there? Not just as a moistening herb, you know. It can support some mucus membranes and so on, like other demulcents. But Solomon’s seal can really move that fluid into and through connective tissues: tendons, and ligaments and the fascia layer of the body. And that’s really fantastic for a whole big array of different connective tissue situations and pains and discomforts, injuries and inflammatory conditions, and a lot of things.

Katja (20:27):
And shatavari has that action, but it’s very targeted. It’s very targeted towards pelvic floor connective tissue. And so I feel like if I needed to get that action throughout the whole body, that’s when it becomes challenging. Because Solomon’s seal has that action really directed to joint connective tissue. But on the other hand, like because of our culture, because of the sedentary nature of our culture, almost all of us need some help in the pelvic floor. And if we’re a dry person, then we’re going to need that moistening action to help in the pelvic floor. You know, the stuff that I work with for pelvic floor support would not only not be comfortable in a body like yours, but could in fact be – I don’t want to go so far as to say damaging but – discomforting.

Ryn (21:27):
Yeah. I mean, certainly if a dry person with pelvic stagnation is to take a bunch of shepherd’s purse, this isn’t going to help them.

Katja (21:35):
No. It’s going to aggravate them. Aggravating. That’s the word I want.

Ryn (21:38):
Right. So yeah, so shatavari, again, it’s not like a direct, across the board substitute for Solomon’s seal. But it is a decent candidate if we are trying to rebuild or to formulate that out of other herbs. I might say, start with shatavari, some Japanese knotweed, maybe some teasel root if I’ve got it. And then, yeah, like you implied, some dispersive herbs. Maybe prickly ash or something to try to extend that effect throughout the system.

Katja (22:09):
I like the prickly ash idea. I mean I always turn to ginger. But I actually really like the prickly ash idea there.

Ryn (22:18):
Well, so those are some shatavari thoughts. Do you have others too? I guess we haven’t like said the sort of usual things of like it’s great if elderly women are experiencing vaginal dryness, you know, along with their fatigue and other…

Katja (22:32):
Right. It really is about dryness, especially dryness in the pelvic floor. And that might be because of vaginal dryness. But it might also be any kind of depletion or even like a dry congestion, so again like sedentism. But you know shatavari, like every other herb, it’s not just for anyone. It’s for everyone. So, let’s say that we’re working with someone who has BPH and a super dry constitution. And now we want to give them nettle root and saw palmetto, and they’re already super dry. That’s going to be really uncomfortable. BPH is a localized, damp situation. But still, in a dry body yes, we do need to deal with that localized dampness. But we don’t want to dry everything out. And so shatavari would be a really important part of a protocol for a person with that kind of constitution dealing with BPH.

Astragalus: Astragalus membranaceus, Root Chewing & Properties

Ryn (23:45):
Yeah. Cool. Astragalus.

Katja (23:51):

Ryn (23:53):
Astragalus time, yeah.

Katja (23:54):
Astragalus time. And astragalus, which sounds so much like asparagus, but it’s not. Astragalus is an herb that I always think about when I’m sick. And I’m like ahh, when I’m starting to feel better I should really drink a bunch of astragalus. And then I forget. And when we drink astragalus it’s because I say gosh darn it. We really need to do this, and I move it to the kitchen. And that’s when we really do it. Because to me astragalus, I don’t know why, but I really got in the habit of putting astragalus into rice, and putting astragalus into broth. Those are the two places that I really… And honestly, okay. Actually, there is a lot of traditional call for that.

Ryn (24:46):
It’s a great way to work with the herb.

Katja (24:47):
Yeah. And it is an herb about nourishment. It is an herb about rebuilding. I like to think about it as like a savings account. So, let’s say you have a savings account to go on vacation. And you save up, and you save up, and whenever you have some extra money, you put it in that vacation account. And then you go on vacation, and you spend that account, right? That’s what the money is for. It is time to vacate and spend that money. And when you come home, that account is going to be empty, because you went on vacation. And so I think about that with regard to immune health. And, you know, we’re always building up our immune savings account. Like any night that you get a good night of sleep, excellent. That’s some immune savings account right there. Any day that you eat a couple extra vegetables, hooray. That is your immune savings account. Like all those things. Any time you do a thing with health in it, like good job. You just put some extra whatever in your immune savings account. And then you get sick and you spent that. And so I always think about astragalus in terms of rebuilding the immune savings account for when we need it. And that just is such a nourishing action in my mind, that I just always associated with food. And when I’m finally like I really just need to drink this also. It’s not enough in the food. I also want to drink it. I have to move it to the kitchen, because that’s where I think of it.

Ryn (26:23):
Yeah. That’s fair though. With astragalus, a couple of things about working with this herb. You’re going to find it available in your cut and sifted version, your dried shredded herb. And then often it’s also available as root slices. And I like the root slices in a couple of different ways. I like them for adding into broth, especially for people who are not going to eat all of the things that we’ve put into their broth. Like if we put a bunch of codonopsis and burdock and medicinal mushrooms and even seaweeds, and they’re like I’m not going to eat that stuff. You can put it in my soup. I’ll drink the fluid. If you know you’re going to do that, then yeah. Go ahead with the root slices for the astragalus, and make it easier.

Katja (27:12):
Yeah, it’s just easier to strain it out that way.

Ryn (27:14):
But I also like those root slices to chew on. It’s not exactly a stick of gum, but it is a stick like thing. And then you chew on it. And then you chew to it for a while, and there’s some flavor. And then the flavor fades, and then you’re done. But with that method I think I have them in my mind as like chew roots. I guess there are other parts of the plant that you can chew on. But with like licorice root pieces, or pieces of calamus root, or slices of astragalus root, it is a really effective way to extract herbal constituents. You’ve got mechanical grinding action. You’ve got a watery extraction that’s ongoing. Think of like a percolation setup that’s continually running. That’s sort of what you’re doing in your mouth.

Katja (28:00):
It’s exactly what you described, right? You chew it until it doesn’t have any flavor anymore.

Ryn (28:05):
There are enzymatic reactions that are taking place to break things down and liberate constituents. Yeah.

Katja (28:09):
Right. The flavors, like smell and like color, those are phytochemicals. It isn’t like the flavor is just some kind of extra bonus thing. When the flavor’s gone, you’ve got the stuff out. All you’re left with is the fiber at that point.

Ryn (28:24):
Yeah. And you can even swallow the fibrous leftover bits if you want. They’re probably either food for your flora, or if not just some bulking fiber. And that’s nice every now and then, you know?

Katja (28:36):
Yeah. You really got kind of obsessed with chewing like every day for a while there. And now in this apothecary the astragalus is…

Ryn (28:48):
It’s like way harder to reach.

Katja (28:50):
It’s much harder to reach. It’s in a very high spot.

Ryn (28:55):
In a corner.

Katja (28:56):
Yeah. So, I actually feel like you stopped chewing it when…

Ryn (29:00):
When we had the space in the city, and I would go there and teach and then walk home. I would always climb up on the shelf, and then grab an astragalus slice before I would head out, like last thing, you know, part of the habit. This is the way that a lot of habits get formed is like oh, it just becomes a thing that you do. And it’s part of your leaving the office routine.

Katja (29:20):
Yep, and now I get my astragalus slice. Yeah. So, it might seem a little weird to chew on a root, but the slices are quite thin. So, it’s not like it’s uncomfortable or anything. It’s not any weird and than chewing on gum, except it’s not synthetic.

Ryn (29:37):
Yeah. They soften up quick.

Katja (29:38):
And that is where the concept of chewing gum came from. There are different things that people chewed throughout history. But roots were one of them. And so it is like a much more traditional form of chewing gum than what we have today. So, if you try chewing on astragalus slices, some people might think you’re weird. But you don’t have to tell them that’s what you’re chewing on. They will just assume that you’re chewing gum, and you never have to tell them any different. And that way they’re not going to say that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. And there you go. You get all the benefits of the astragalus, and your friends don’t think you’re strange. Your friends may already think you’re strange, in which case go wild. But you know, like sometimes people before they try something new, they’re like this is kind of weird. People are going to think I’m really weird. Nah, people aren’t going to know. Just go ahead. Chew on some roots.

Astragalus, Codonopsis, & Convalescence

Ryn (30:43):
Yeah. Well, so astragalus benefits. We think of this herb with greatest connection to the immune system. And astragalus is not like an immune stimulant. It’s not something where you’re like oh, I’m starting to get sick. I better drink a bunch of astragalus decoction, and then it will wake my immune system up and fight it all off. Not quite. With this herb it’s a bit different. Astragalus is more like what you said about after being sick and wanting to recover, and wanting to recover fully and thoroughly and get yourself all the way back. Refill that account you were mentioning.

Katja (31:23):
Yeah. I just associate it with like convalescence, right, like the recovery phase. Which by the way, this culture really doesn’t appreciate convalescence. Like we don’t have any convalescence in our culture anymore. And I really think that we should.

Ryn (31:43):
Well, you’re not leaking snot anymore. And if you caffeinate yourself, you can pretty much keep your eyes open. So, you should be at work.

Katja (31:51):
Exactly. That’s how it goes. But I think that that concept of a period of time after being sick where you’re just recovering your strength, because you just did a big thing of fighting off the sickness. That’s critically important to the human body. That is a step that we cannot skip. Skipping that step is not an actually an option from the body’s perspective. From our culture’s perspective, that step is irrelevant. We don’t need it. And now we’re all walking around depleted all of the time, because we’re never giving ourselves this opportunity for convalescence.

Ryn (32:33):
You were thinking about broth, and about cooking it into rice. And these are the kinds of foods that you want to be eating when you’re recovering, right. It’s not like time to leap into a raw spinach salad immediately after your last flu or your last fever of the flu cycle, right?

Katja (32:50):
Right. It’s too much for your poor guts.

Ryn (32:52):
Yeah. So, you know, astragalus is one of these herbs that we’re going to take in those simple, easy to digest foods. Not too complicated not a ton of ingredients, cooked for a good long time so the digestion is done for you even before you eat it. But you can add astragalus into there, and really power up a broth or come congee or gruel or something like that. Gruel has such negative connotations to it.

Katja (33:19):
Well, we could say grits, you know. If you’re a hot cereal kind of person, you can put astragalus into any hot cereal of your choice. Go right ahead. Yes. When I think about pairing astragalus, I am always thinking about codonopsis. And like these two are just my…what?

Ryn (33:44):
Marrow. She wants to say marrow. She wants to say it. I was counting down in my head. I was like marrow, marrow, marrow, marrow.

Katja (33:51):
He was looking at me funny, ya’ll.

Ryn (33:51):
It’s coming.

Katja (33:53):
I do. I do want to say marrow, because that’s what’s going on in convalescence. One of the things you’re doing is like building back your bone marrow. Because your bone marrow is where you make all those immune response cells. And so when you get sick, your bone marrow goes into like super production mode, right, so that you can fight that stuff off. And that’s not a problem. Your body can do that. But if you don’t spend a little time building it back, then you’re going to have supply chain issues. Right? Because if you just used up all your materials to make all of those immune responders, and now we don’t resupply the bone marrow so that it can make the next round of immune responders, then you’re going to have stores with nothing on the shelves, and yeah.

Ryn (34:50):
Inflation might happen. I don’t know what that would be in the body, but…

Katja (34:54):
We’ve run this metaphor out. So anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about is restoring capacity in the body. And so codonopsis is one of my other favorite herbs to do that with. Also a sweet tasting herb. Also fantastic in broth or like anywhere, rice, whatever.

Ryn (35:21):
Pretty good as a chew root also, codonopsis. It falls apart faster than astragalus does.

Katja (35:26):
Well, that’s because it’s not a woody root. It’s really like a parsnip. It’s really, really like a parsnip. And it also tastes that way after a while of chewing it. Like it has the same kind of texture. Like I think I’m chewing parsnip. It’s not as fibery.

Ryn (35:45):
Right. Yeah. The two of them go together really well. It’s not uncommon for us to also be putting together with astragalus, with codonopsis, to put something like shatavari or ashwagandha in there.

Katja (36:01):
Or seaweed

Ryn (36:02):

Katja (36:03):
Right. These are all like moistening things. Yeah. Mushrooms.

Ryn (36:08):
Right. Astragalus does have a slight moistening quality to it, right? It’s not like a demulcent herb really.

Katja (36:14):
It’s not like marshmallow root. It’s not. But it really is in the club. But yeah, okay. So, you’ve got a broth. You put in your astragalus. You put in some codonopsis. Codonopsis is one of the more expensive herbs, and astragalus is quite a bit less expensive. So, that also can be really helpful when you’re like ah. I really wish I had some codonopsis. Or I have a little codonopsis. That’s okay. Have your codonopsis, and then have astragalus with it. Put your seaweed in the broth. Put some kind of medicinal mushroom. I really like maitake, but it could be whoever you like, turkey, tail, whatever. And then have that. Make a big pot of it and have that as you are in your recovery time. Not your my face is still dripping snot time, your recovery time afterwards. Like I’m starting to maybe feel like a human again. You’re not done yet at that part. Your body is still doing stuff. So, that is still a time to be in that rebuilding phase. You’re out of the acute critical part, but you’re now in that rebuilding convalescent phase that we have erased from our culture, but still your body has not erased it. Your body still needs it.

Water is the Way to Go

Ryn (37:39):
Yeah. Nice. Yeah. Those are some really excellent combinations to work with with astragalus. Water is the way to go with this one. I mean, we’ve made a tincture of astragalus before.

Katja (37:52):
I mean, listen, the same with shatavari. I would not make a tincture of shatavari.

Ryn (37:56):
Yeah. And I know people are doing it, and that’s fine, honestly. But at home it’s about water. Yeah, I was starting to say we’ve made astragalus tincture before and everything, but it just didn’t thrill me. And a lot of the constituents that seem to be responsible for activity from astragalus here, you need them in a decent quantity to get the real effect from them. Kind of similar to your mushrooms or your seaweeds in that regard. Like there are ways that it can be concentrated through the magic of technology and everything. But for home preparations, water is going to be the best way to go.

Katja (38:43):
Yeah, absolutely. A.

Ryn (38:44):
And good long cooking for this too, you know. A decoction, a soup, a broth, something like that. Put in a Crock-Pot. That’s great.

Katja (38:53):
Yep. Or, you know, like chai. But listen, if you’re going to make it with chai, and you’re not making your chai spice blend yourself, a lot of chai spice blends have black tea in them. So, either get one that doesn’t, which I think would be preferable. And this is going to work with astragalus, with shatavari, with both of them together, whatever. But the thing here is that if you are going to incorporate black tea into your chai, and you also want these roots in it, then let it simmer in the pot or on the stove or wherever for at least half an hour. And then put the black tea in at the very last minute. Because otherwise your black tea is going to be like super duper…

Ryn (39:42):
Yeah, it will get bitter. It’ll get astringent on you.

Katja (39:43):
Yeah, it won’t be very pleasant.

Ryn (39:45):
It won’t feel good. yeah.

Katja (39:47):
So pro tip.

Ryn (39:49):
Right. And if you are like in a recovery or rebuilding phase, then you don’t really want to be taking caffeine than anyway. That’s not the time.

Katja (39:55):
Well, you might want to, but your body will not thank you for it.

Ryn (39:58):
Right. Yeah. That’s what I meant there.

Katja (40:04):
Well I really do love this team you made with the shatavari, the astragalus, cacao and hawthorn and ginger and cinnamon and cardamom. It’s fantastic.

Ryn (40:14):
Yeah, this came out pretty good. So, this one could have been a decoction. But if you’ve listened to the pod before, you might know that sometimes we’ll take and put herbs into a press pot. So, it’s a sealed vacuum container. It’s going to stay pretty much at boiling temperature.

Katja (40:30):
Yeah. I think that commercially they’re called air pots. We call everything a press pot. And so we’re not referring to a French press here. We’re referring to an air pot. That big, tall, silver thing with like the black top that has a little handle that you push, and it spurts out the hot beverage for you.

Ryn (40:47):
Yeah. People will often just make coffee and put it in there.

Katja (40:51):
Like in a cafe or something you’ll see these. Yeah. But you can have one at home.

Ryn (40:56):
And on days when we, you know, get started on time and everything with the tea making, and know that we’re going to drink that whole thing, and then probably pour more boiling water into it again later in the day. Then I do feel comfortable with most decoction herbs in that preparation.

Katja (41:17):
Right, because it stays so hot in there. It’s hotter than you can drink. Like you pour in the boiling water, and it stays very close to that hot the whole time. So, it’s not exactly decocting at a rolling boil. But absolutely the same temperature that a simmer would be.

Ryn (41:33):
Yeah. So, you know, that’s going to do the job and get the constituent extraction that we’re looking for. I did combine these two lead herbs here just because we were going to be talking about them today. I thought, all right. Well, let’s drink those.

Katja (41:48):
But honestly, I think that if you had this every day for a week, you would really feel a big difference.

Ryn (41:56):
Yeah. I might do that. Because if, again, if you’re new, I’m the representative of the dry constitutional pattern on this particular podcast.

Katja (42:09):
And a lot of the herbs that you enjoy are either drying… Not super drying, like uva ursi like I like. But still drying or just barely neutral. You like mints, and none of those are moistening.

Ryn (42:27):
Yeah. And I also probably need to take another step at expanding my demulcents palate, because for a long time it was just marshmallow. And then it was like, well also licorice and fennel and violet and linden and some other things, and trying to make sure I always include at least one of them in whatever tea blend I happened to be putting together. But I think that I need to circle back, and take a closer look at shatavari and at astragalus as constitutional balancing herbs. And recognizing that like, maybe I don’t feel like somebody who has compromised immunity or gets sick easily or anything. But why not give an occasional immune boost, feed my marrow some and things it needs, right? And on the shatavari side, get some of that connective tissue appreciation and care, some of that pelvic floor fluid movement. Make sure things are happening well. Soothe the nerves. Okay, that’s a fine idea. So yeah, so I am planning a little while here of being more consistent with these ones. I put in the cacao today in large part, because I was like all right. What’s going to taste really good together with that nuttiness from the shatavari. And cacao seemed to be the perfect thing. These are just the cacao nibs, or like the dried pieces of the cacao. It comes out really nice. It’s a great ingredient in herbal decoctions. There’s a tiny little bit of caffeine in there. There’s a lot more of this compound called theobromine. But cacao is, you know, it’s an exhilarant. It’s a bronchodilator. It’s a mild digestive. It’s a cardiovascular relaxant. It’s lovely, right? And then hawthorn, kind of bouncing on that cardiovascular idea. But I often put cacao and hawthorn together in these kinds of things.

Katja (44:20):
It also rounds out the flavor. Like hawthorn gives it just a little sour kind of…

Ryn (44:26):
Just a tiny little bit, yeah. And then the chai herbs, right? So, ginger and cardamom are kind of the base there, a little touch of cinnamon. If I had had a jar of cloves handy, I might’ve put one in, but…

Katja (44:39):
Half a clove.

Ryn (44:40):
Half of a clove, yeah. Something like that.

Katja (44:43):
In my body I’m wishing there was more ginger in here. Because when you drink it, you feel the moistening. Like it’s wetter than regular tea.

Ryn (44:57):
It’s a little silky?

Katja (44:58):
It’s a little silky. Yeah, exactly.

Ryn (45:01):
You might need to squirt some ginger tincture into your teacup. Something like that. All right. So, those are some thoughts from today on shatavari and on astragalus. if you already work with these herbs a lot and have other thoughts, then we’d love to hear them. You’re always encouraged to reach out to us at info@commonwealthherbs.com. Or if you’re a student in any of our online courses, then we’ve got discussion threads attached to every single lesson. We’ve got community forums. If you want to get some social contact, but want to stay away from Facebook, this is a great place to do that. And we love to hear what your experiences are and your thoughts, whether they track with ours or whether they diverge.

Katja (45:45):
Or if you’re doing something different. Yeah, it’s fun to hear all the different ways that people are in relationship with these plants.

Ryn (45:54):
Yeah. So, get in touch with us. Join up with our student community. We’d love to have you. You can find all the information you need about that at commonwealthherbs.com. But we’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism Podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (46:13):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (46:15):
And aspar-astragalate all of your guys.

Katja (46:19):
And your girls, and everybody.

Ryn (46:44):


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