There are some nasty viruses going around and they are so severe they are making the headlines. Apparently, seasons when H3N2 is most prevalent tend to be the worst seasons for the flu. This is due to two factors. The first is that people born before 1968 seem to be especially susceptible to the disease and, secondly, because vaccines don’t work well against what some call a “tricky” virus.1
In addition to the flu virus there are two other respiratory viruses that are also making the rounds.
Before these viruses started making the headlines I knew we were in for an intense season because I got sick. Twice! Once right after the other. I could hardly believe it.
I was also scratching my head a bit: I was eating well, sleeping well, taking Vitamin D3… okay so I was a little stressed around that time as well, but I couldn’t point to a big reason for getting sick. And to be fair, we don’t always get to decide if we get a virus. Although we have some control over our immune system strength, sometimes viruses are incredibly virulent.
Then something occurred to me. I used to get sick every winter, multiple times. Then I started taking a lot of astragalus. This is an amazing herb for building the immune system. It increases immune system function in multiple ways and does so in a normalizing way. This means that people who are both immune deficient and immune excessive can often benefit from its gifts.
Although astragalus had been a wonderful herb for me in the past, I wasn’t currently taking it. I normally make pot after pot of chai spices with lots of astragalus and drink that throughout the winter. But I think I just got tired of that preparation. I was craving something else.
After trying a couple of different recipes, I’ve come up with my new favorite astragalus recipe: Astragalus and Miso Soup.
Before we get to the astragalus and miso soup recipe, here’s some more information about astragalus and miso.
Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus syn A. membranaceus)
Astragalus is a pea family plant that originally comes from China. Western herbalists have really fallen for this herb and it is commonly used in Western herbalism as well. There are thousands of different Astragalus genus plants in the world and most of them are toxic. Be sure to either buy, grow or harvest Astragalus propinquus.
Astragalus is an immunomodulating herb that is commonly used to normalize immune system function. I often think of it specifically for people who are regularly coming down with upper respiratory viruses. You can also simply use it to maintain wellness. From limited human clinical trials and from in vitro studies, we know that astragalus increases the white blood cell count, decreases viral replication, and stimulates the production of T killer cells.2 3 4 5
Traditionally astragalus is cooked into foods like soups or rice. It is commonly sold as long thinly sliced roots that can be easily removed from the dish before eating (it’s never edible as the root remains too fibrous). If you are using astragalus to maintain wellness then putting some roots in a soup or rice dish can be a good way to use it. If you are wanting to use astragalus to strengthen your immune system then you will most benefit from using it in higher dosages, daily, for a long period of time. In Chinese Medicine astragalus is used in very high dosages, sometimes up to 100 grams per day.
This astragalus and miso soup recipe uses 30 grams of astragalus root per serving. Here’s what that looks like in a bowl (I recommend getting a simple kitchen scale to weigh it out.)
For this recipe I recommend getting roots that are either cut up finely or the long thin roots. You could use the powder but it may make your beverage gritty as it is difficult to strain out.
Miso is a fermented bean sauce that comes to us from Japanese cuisine and culture. It is full of probiotics. It is often made with soybeans and grains but you can find both soy-free and gluten-free miso. Regularly consuming live fermented foods high in probiotics is a great way to support healthy gut flora. Our intestinal bacteria has been strongly linked to immune system health.
You can find miso pastes in the refrigerated section of your health food store or grocery store. If your local store doesn’t carry it, ask them to start! My favorite miso comes from South River Miso and you can order from them direct. I recommend the Dandelion Root Leek Miso.
To get the best results with miso, never cook it. Instead, remove the broth from heat, you can even let it cool a bit, then add the miso. The amount you add is up to you. I love the savory salty taste of miso and I often add large heaping tablespoons to my broths and soups.
Avoid miso that is sold as a powder and is not refrigerated as this does not have probiotics.
Astragalus Miso Soup Recipe
This is a super simple recipe to make, but one that is incredibly beneficial for immune system health. It’s also delicious and the perfect thing to curl up with in the winter. This can be drank as a morning beverage, or eaten as a simple soup before a meal. For best results, enjoy this astragalus and miso soup regularly. Any type of broth can be used for the base; you could even use water. This broth could be the start of a more complex soup. You could add sliced garlic, a sautéed onion, some strips of seaweed, fried tempeh and on and on.
What you’ll need…
- 2 cups broth (bone broth, meat broth, veggie broth)
- 30 grams astragalus
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 1-3 tablespoons miso
- Place the broth, astragalus, and black pepper into a medium sized sauce pan with a tight fitting lid.
- Bring to a simmer, cover, and continue to simmer on low for 30 minutes.
- Strain off the broth. You could use the astragalus again if desired, otherwise compost.
- Let the broth cool slightly, then add your desired amount of miso.
- Serve warm in a mug or as a simple soup.
Yield: This yields about 1 1/2 cups and is a single serving.
Now I’d love to hear from you.
Have you ever used astragalus?
What other ingredients might you add to this soup?
Let me know in the comments below.
- Branswell, Helen. “‘The problem child of seasonal flu’: Beware this winter’s virus.” STAT. January 13, 2018. Accessed January 14, 2018. https://www.statnews.com/2018/01/08/flu-virus-h3n2/. ↩
- Weng, X. S. “(Treatment of Leucopenia with Pure Astragalus Preparation— An Analysis of 115 Leucopenic Cases).” Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine) 15, no. 8 (August 1995): 462–64. ↩
- Zwickey, Heather, et al. “The Effect of Echinacea Purpurea, Astragalus Membranaceus and Glycyrrhiza Glabra on CD25 Expression in Humans: A Pilot Study.” Phytotherapy Research 21, no. 11 (November 2007): 1109–12. doi:10.1002/ptr.2207. ↩
- Poon, P. M. K., et al. “Immunomodulatory Effects of a Traditional Chinese Medicine with Potential Antiviral Activity: A Self-Control Study.” American Journal of Chinese Medicine 34, no. 1 (2006): 13–21. doi:10.1142/S0192415X0600359X. ↩
- Lau, T. F., et al. “Using Herbal Medicine as a Means of Prevention Experience during the SARS Crisis.” American Journal of Chinese Medicine 33, no. 3 (2005): 345–56. doi:10.1142/S0192415X05002965. ↩